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Old 31-12-08, 09:12 AM   #1
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Join Date: May 2001
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - January 3rd, 2009

Since 2002

"Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it. Sad." – Mike Boettcher

"I’d like to think we’ve learned some cautionary lessons from the music industry. What is the utility in suing individuals who are part of a larger chain of events?" – Michael J. Mellis, Major League Baseball

"Today I am ashamed to be Australian." – Duncan Riley

"I yam what I yam." – Popeye

January 3rd, 2009

Writing the Web’s Future in Numerous Languages
Daniel Sorid

The next chapter of the World Wide Web will not be written in English alone. Asia already has twice as many Internet users as North America, and by 2012 it will have three times as many. Already, more than half of the search queries on Google come from outside the United States.

The globalization of the Web has inspired entrepreneurs like Ram Prakash Hanumanthappa, an engineer from outside Bangalore, India. Mr. Ram Prakash learned English as a teenager, but he still prefers to express himself to friends and family members in his native Kannada. But using Kannada on the Web involves computer keyboard maps that even Mr. Ram Prakash finds challenging to learn.

So in 2006 he developed Quillpad, an online service for typing in 10 South Asian languages. Users spell out words of local languages phonetically in Roman letters, and Quillpad’s predictive engine converts them into local-language script. Bloggers and authors rave about the service, which has attracted interest from the cellphone maker Nokia and the attention of Google Inc., which has since introduced its own transliteration tool.

Mr. Ram Prakash said Western technology companies have misunderstood the linguistic landscape of India, where English is spoken proficiently by only about a tenth of the population and even many college-educated Indians prefer the contours of their native tongues for everyday speech. “You’ve got to give them an opportunity to express themselves correctly, rather than make a fool out of themselves and forcing them to use English,” he said.

Only there is a shortage of non-English content and applications. So, American technology giants are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to build and develop foreign-language Web sites and services — before local companies like Quillpad beat them to the punch and the profits.

“Gone are the days in which you can launch a Web site in English and assume that readers from around the globe are going to look to you simply because of the content you’re providing,” said Zia Daniell Wigder, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch, an online research company based in New York.

Nowhere are the obstacles, or the potential rewards, more apparent than in India, whose online population Jupiter says is poised to become the third-largest in the world after China and the United States by 2012. Indians may speak one language to their boss, another to their spouse and a third to a parent. In casual speech, words can be drawn from a grab bag of tongues.

In the last two years, Yahoo and Google have introduced more than a dozen services to encourage India’s Web users to search, blog, chat and learn in their mother tongues. Microsoft has built its Windows Live bundle of online consumer services in seven Indian languages. Facebook has enlisted hundreds of volunteers to translate its social networking site into Hindi and other regional languages, and Wikipedia now has more entries in Indian local languages than in Korean.

Google’s search service has lagged behind the local competition in China, and that has made providing locally flavored services a priority for the company in India. Google’s initiatives in India are aimed at opening the country’s historically slow-growing personal computer market, and at developing expertise that Google will be able to apply to building services for emerging markets worldwide.

“India is a microcosm of the world,” said Dr. Prasad Bhaarat Ram, Google India’s head of research and development. “Having 22 languages creates a new level of complexity in which you can’t take the same approach that you would if you had one predominant language and applied it 22 times.”

Global businesses are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year working their way down a list of languages into which to translate their Web sites, said Donald A. DePalma, the chief research officer of Common Sense Advisory, a consulting business in Lowell, Mass., that specializes in localizing Web sites.

India — with relatively undeveloped e-commerce and online advertising markets — is actually lower on the list than Russia, Brazil and South Korea, Mr. DePalma said.

Mr. Ram of Google acknowledged that the company’s local-language initiatives in India did not yet generate significant revenue.

But the investments, Mr. DePalma said, are smart. “They’re potentially creating the Indian advertising market,” he said.

English simply will not suffice for connecting with India’s growing online market, a lesson already learned by Western television producers and consumer products makers, said Rama Bijapurkar, a marketing consultant and the author of “Winning in the Indian Market: Understanding the Transformation of Consumer India.”

“If you want to reach a billion people, or even half a billion people, and you want to bond with them, then you have no choice but to do multiple languages,” she said.

Even among the largely English-speaking base of around 50 million Web users in India today, nearly three-quarters prefer to read in a local language, according to a survey by JuxtConsult, an Indian market research company. Many cannot find the content they are seeking. “There is a huge shortage of local language content,” said Sanjay Tiwari, the chief executive of JuxtConsult.

A Microsoft initiative, Project Bhasha, coordinates the efforts of Indian academics, local businesses and solo software developers to expand computing in regional languages. The project’s Web site, which counts thousands of registered members, refers to language as “one of the main contributors to the digital divide” in India.

The company is also seeing growing demand from Indian government agencies and companies creating online public services in local languages.

“As many of these companies want to push their services into rural India or tier-two towns or smaller towns, then it becomes essential they communicate with their customers in the local language,” said Pradeep Parappil, a Microsoft program manager.

The project’s Web site, BhashaIndia.com, offers user-edited glossaries in local languages for technology terms and words with slang meanings in social networking, like “nudge” and “wink.” (“Bhasha” is the Hindi word for “language.”)

Last December, Yahoo and Jagran Group, a large Hindi newspaper publisher, started Jagran.com, a portal in the Hindi language, the native tongue of 420 million Indians.

Yahoo, which also offers e-mail and other content in several Indian languages, says that Jagran.com has surpassed its expectations for user traffic.

“Localization is the key to success in countries like India,” said Gopal Krishna, who oversees consumer services at Yahoo India.

Google recently introduced news aggregation sites in Hindi and three major South Indian languages, and a transliteration tool for writing in five Indian languages. Its search engine operates in nine Indian languages, and can translate search results from the English Web into Hindi and back.

Google engineers are also plugging away on voice recognition, translation, transliteration and digital text reading that it plans to apply to other developing countries.

Mr. Ram Prakash of Quillpad said he was inspired when friends at Google told him they had compared Quillpad with Google’s transliteration tool. He said that he believed the use of local languages on the Web would soar even as more Indians strived to learn English.

“That’s why we say English is not enough,” Mr. Ram Prakash said, repeating the slogan of Quillpad. “People want to look forward, and they want to learn English. That is all right, but English is not enough for all their needs.”

Chinese Court Jails 11 in Microsoft Piracy Ring
David Barboza

A court in southern China convicted 11 people on Wednesday of violating national copyright laws and participating in a sophisticated counterfeiting ring that for years manufactured and distributed pirated Microsoft software throughout the world.

The men were sentenced by a court in the city of Shenzhen to between one-and-a-half to six-and-a-half years in prison, according to court papers released late Wednesday.

Microsoft applauded the sentence in a statement released late Wednesday Beijing time, saying they were the stiffest sentences ever handed down in this type of Chinese copyright infringement case.

Microsoft has called the group part of “the biggest software counterfeiting organization we have ever seen, by far” and estimated its global sales at more than $2 billion.

The case is considered by some legal specialists to be a landmark because it involved a joint anti-piracy effort by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and China’s Ministry of Public Security. Law enforcement officials said it was also notable because the group operated like a multinational corporation, producing and distributing high quality counterfeit software that was created and packaged almost identically to the real products, despite Microsoft’s anti-piracy measures.

The counterfeit goods, like Windows XP and Office 2007, were sold using the Internet and exported from China, mostly shipped to the United States and Europe, where they commanded relatively high prices, investigators say. American and Chinese officials say they broke up the criminal ring in July 2007 with the arrest of 25 people in China, the dismantling of several manufacturing facilities and the confiscation of counterfeit software valued at more than $500 million.

“This is absolutely unprecedented,” David Finn, Microsoft’s associate general counsel for worldwide piracy and counterfeiting issues, said. “The size and scope of the operation is unlike anything we’ve seen before. We found their products in 36 countries.”

A separate trial involving nine suspects in Shanghai has not yet reached a verdict. That group has been accused of counterfeiting Microsoft and Symantec software and distributing it worldwide.

Legal specialists say that software pirates are becoming increasingly sophisticated and that the two court cases show that China is capable of exporting high quality, fully packaged software that could be easily sold as if it were the real thing. Even customs officials have been fooled by the counterfeits, which contained hologram markings and Microsoft’s difficult to replicate “certificates of authenticity,” investigators say.

Counterfeiting experts say the ring appeared to be less interested in selling its products inside of China, where counterfeit Microsoft software can be purchased for as little as $3. They were seeking the higher value export market.

Microsoft says its 75-member anti-piracy team had been tracking the ring since 2001. The F.B.I. began its operation, code-named “Summer Solstice,” in 2005 and cooperated with Chinese officials.

American politicians and corporate executives have been pressing China for years to crack down on piracy and intellectual property rights abuses involving everything from music and film to expensive software products. Software piracy is rampant in China, where about 80 percent of computers are believed to use counterfeit software, according to the Business Software Alliance.

The counterfeiting has caused some friction between American and Chinese officials, but China insists that it has made significant progress in its fight against intellectual property violators. Now, the successful prosecution of one of the biggest software counterfeiting rings is seen by the government as a major breakthrough.

Shenzhen officials declined to comment Wednesday on the court verdict. Still, while the F.B.I. and Chinese officials say hundreds of millions of dollars worth of material were seized in a variety of international raids, the Shenzhen court found on Wednesday that the suspects on trial there had sold less than $200,000 worth of counterfeit products overseas.

It is unclear whether others pocketed much greater sums or whether many more ringleaders are still at large.

Most of those convicted Wednesday had only completed middle school, according to court documents. But members of the group had access to one of China’s biggest disk manufacturing companies in Shenzhen through the use of phony licenses, court papers said.
The counterfeit Microsoft software was produced using manufacturing equipment that costs millions of dollars, investigators said, and appeared in English, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish as well as other languages. The Chinese government found warehouses filled with molding machines, guilding machines, sealing machines and air compressors.

Microsoft Uses WGA To Obtain Record Jail Sentences

According to Microsoft, "No information is collected during the [Genuine Advantage Program] validation process that can be used to identify or contact a user." That's little comfort to the software counterfeiters who were just handed jail sentences ranging from 1.5-6.5 years by the Futian People's Court in China, especially since Microsoft contends that much of the estimated $2B in bogus software was detected by its Windows Genuine Advantage program. "Software piracy negatively impacts local economic growth," explained Microsoft VP Fengming Liu in a celebratory New Year's Eve press release. But then again, so does transferring $16B of assets and $9B in annual profit to an Irish tax haven, doesn't it?"

Online Piracy Menaces Pro Sports
Tim Arango

An important National Football League game on a recent Saturday night was dark on millions of television screens, but it lit up an untold number of laptops.

The game between the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys was pivotal in determining playoff teams, and it was the last home game ever for the Cowboys before they move to a new stadium. But because of a long-lasting feud between the NFL Network and many cable companies, many millions of fans could not watch the game on television. Yet they could watch any number of illicit live streams on the Internet.

After years of focusing on the pirating of highlight clips and photos on the Web, the major professional sports leagues are finding that pirated feeds of live games are now common and becoming a menace to their businesses, especially at a time when leagues are trying to build their own businesses offering live games on the Internet for a subscription fee.

“We never felt that the jewel in our crown, the live games, would be vulnerable,” said Ayala Deutsch, senior vice president and chief intellectual property counsel at the National Basketball Association.

The tangible effect on the leagues’ business today is small but the stakes are large: each sells the rights to its live games to broadcasters for billions of dollars. More important, each is trying to expand its revenue base by selling rights for games on mobile phones and the Web.

Major League Baseball has perhaps the most advanced online business of the major sports, and offers a season of games streamed online for $79.95, a price that league executives say will come down slightly in 2009. Robert A. Bowman, the chief executive of M.L.B.com said that piracy hurt business, but that “it’s embryonic, it’s not widespread, and we have a distinct advantage in that we have a better product.”

Ms. Deutsch, the lawyer at the N.B.A., hosted a gathering recently of executives from other sports leagues — not just in the United States but around the world — at the N.B.A.’s offices in New York City to discuss ways of combating live-game piracy.

“We view it as an international issue,” she said.

That is not just because sports leagues abroad face the same issue, but also because the pirates themselves, the hubs of the peer-to-peer networks that facilitate the illicit streaming of live games, are mostly outside the United States. Often they are in China, where some of the most popular services started as student projects, say league executives who have tracked the digital trail of their pirated games.

While the biggest services are located in China, it takes a fan, often in the United States, to upload the actual stream for distribution to the wider Internet. This is done by using a PC-tuner card, a $50 device that connects a television to a computer, or by uploading the stream from a legitimate online video subscription to a peer-to-peer network.

As technology advances, the problem is likely to become worse as the quality of the picture becomes better. “This can only become a more enjoyable experience,” said Christopher Stokes, the chief executive of NetResult, a company in Britain that consults with the leagues and acts as a sort of Web detective in locating digital pirates.

A recent unpublished report for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, the first major study of the issue, concluded, “This poses a major issue for the leagues and organizations who own and control sports as the sale of broadcast rights represents a major source of revenue, enabling the sports leagues to thrive and continue, from grassroots level to professional league.” The organization helps developed nations tackle mutual economic problems.

David Price, the head of piracy intelligence at Envisional, a consultant that helped prepare the O.E.C.D. report, said: “I think it’s different than looking at movies or music. You might not go to the cinema, but you’ll buy the DVD. With sports, they very much have this one shot to get you to watch the game. If suddenly there is a way to get that live transmission for free, then there is a real threat to their business.”

When leagues try to shut down the pirates, executives can find themselves immersed in an endeavor rife with international intrigue: investigators for the Premier League, England’s top soccer league, chased an offender to Cyprus to serve him court papers, according to Oliver Weingarten, a lawyer for the league.

On a recent morning at the Manhattan offices of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, M.L.B.’s digital unit, an executive started a laptop and went to a live feed of a soccer game on ESPN Hong Kong that was carried by TVants.com. M.L.B. officials say TVants.com, based in China, is one of the biggest providers of live game feeds.

M.L.B., which employs three people full time to monitor the Web for piracy, first noticed one of its games being illicitly streamed live on the Internet during a 2006 division series game between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2007, M.L.B. documented 3,000 incidents of its live games being stolen; last season that number grew to 5,000. (There are 2,430 regular season games a season).

“Even if you take a modest number of viewers per transmission, the number gets very large, very quickly,” said Michael J. Mellis, general counsel for M.L.B.com. “We do think it impacts our business, or we wouldn’t be so worried about it.”

The N.B.A.’s popularity in China, thanks in large part to the star power of Yao Ming, the Chinese star on the Houston Rockets, has made its games some of the most popular for pirates and viewers. A single game last year between the Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks drew 1.1 million viewers, mostly in China, over the China-based service Sopcast.

As a result, the N.B.A. has gone so far as to form a partnership with two peer-to-peer streaming services in China to offer legitimate streaming of live games.

Gary Gertzog, the general counsel at the N.F.L., says enforcement is difficult. This season alone the league has disabled several hundred sites, but each Sunday its games are available on a number of Web sites. “Live games online is clearly something that has proliferated over the last two years,” he said.

In combating piracy, one method of enforcement is off limits, executives say. They will not, like the music industry did, sue individual fans who are uploading games to peer-to-peer platforms.

“I’d like to think we’ve learned some cautionary lessons from the music industry,” said Mr. Mellis of M.L.B. “What is the utility in suing individuals who are part of a larger chain of events?”

So a steady flow of cease-and-desist letters flow out of the offices of each league’s law firms. Moral suasion is used on foreign governments — M.L.B., for example, has been in discussions with the Chinese government about shutting sites there. Sometimes it works: Sopcast, a service that was begun as a project at Fudan University in Shanghai, now blocks M.L.B. games. (Virtually every other sport’s games can still be seen over the service.)

“If this is a baseball game, it’s still the top of the first, or the bottom of the first,” Mr. Mellis said. “This is going to take years.”

What Carriers Aren’t Eager to Tell You About Texting
Randall Stross

TEXT messaging is a wonderful business to be in: about 2.5 trillion messages will have been sent from cellphones worldwide this year. The public assumes that the wireless carriers’ costs are far higher than they actually are, and profit margins are concealed by a heavy curtain.

Senator Herb Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin and the chairman of the Senate antitrust subcommittee, wanted to look behind the curtain. He was curious about the doubling of prices for text messages charged by the major American carriers from 2005 to 2008, during a time when the industry consolidated from six major companies to four.

So, in September, Mr. Kohl sent a letter to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, inviting them to answer some basic questions about their text messaging costs and pricing.

All four of the major carriers decided during the last three years to increase the pay-per-use price for messages to 20 cents from 10 cents. The decision could not have come from a dearth of business: the 2.5 trillion sent messages this year, the estimate of the Gartner Group, is up 32 percent from 2007. Gartner expects 3.3 trillion messages to be sent in 2009.

The written responses to Senator Kohl from AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile speak at length about pricing plans without getting around to the costs of conveying text messages. My attempts to speak with representatives of all three about their costs and pricing were unsuccessful. (Verizon Wireless would not speak with me, either, nor would it allow Mr. Kohl’s office to release publicly its written response.)

The carriers will have other opportunities to tell us more about their pricing decisions: 20 class-action lawsuits have been filed around the country against AT&T and the other carriers, alleging price-fixing for text messaging services. Timothy P. McKone, AT&T’s executive vice president for federal relations, told the senator that the suits had been filed “since your letter was made public” and said that he was “eager to clear up any misunderstanding.”

T-Mobile and AT&T contended in their responses to Mr. Kohl that the pay-per-use price of a message is relatively unimportant because most messaging is done as part of a package. With a $10 or $15 monthly plan for text messaging, customers of T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint can effectively bring the per-message price down to a penny, if they fully use their monthly allotment.

T-Mobile called Mr. Kohl’s attention to the fact that its “average revenue per text message, which takes into account the revenue for all text messages, has declined by more than 50 percent since 2005.”

This statement seems like good news for customers. But consider what is left out: In the past three years, the volume of text messaging in the United States has grown tenfold, according to CTIA — the Wireless Association, a trade group based in Washington. If T-Mobile enjoyed growth that was typical, its text messaging revenue grew fivefold, even with the steep drop in per-message revenue.

The lucrative nature of that revenue increase cannot be appreciated without doing something that T-Mobile chose not to do, which is to talk about whether its costs rose as the industry’s messaging volume grew tenfold. Mr. Kohl’s letter of inquiry noted that “text messaging files are very small, as the size of text messages are generally limited to 160 characters per message, and therefore cost carriers very little to transmit.”

A better description might be “cost carriers very, very, very little to transmit.”

A text message initially travels wirelessly from a handset to the closest base-station tower and is then transferred through wired links to the digital pipes of the telephone network, and then, near its destination, converted back into a wireless signal to traverse the final leg, from tower to handset. In the wired portion of its journey, a file of such infinitesimal size is inconsequential. Srinivasan Keshav, a professor of computer science at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said: “Messages are small. Even though a trillion seems like a lot to carry, it isn’t.”

Perhaps the costs for the wireless portion at either end are high — spectrum is finite, after all, and carriers pay dearly for the rights to use it. But text messages are not just tiny; they are also free riders, tucked into what’s called a control channel, space reserved for operation of the wireless network.

That’s why a message is so limited in length: it must not exceed the length of the message used for internal communication between tower and handset to set up a call. The channel uses space whether or not a text message is inserted.

Professor Keshav said that once a carrier invests in the centralized storage equipment — storing a terabyte now costs only $100 and is dropping — and the staff to maintain it, its costs are basically covered. “Operating costs are relatively insensitive to volume,” he said. “It doesn’t cost the carrier much more to transmit a hundred million messages than a million.”

UNTIL Mr. Kohl began his inquiries, the public had no reason to think of the text-messaging business as anything but an ordinary one, whose operational costs rose in tandem with message volume. The carriers had no reason to correct such an impression.

Professor Keshav, whose academic research received financial support from one of the four major American carriers, discovered just how secretive the carriers are when it comes to this business. Two years ago, when he requested information from his sponsor about its network operations in the past so that his students could study a real-world text-messaging network, he was turned down. He said the company liaison told him, “Even our own researchers are not permitted to see that data.”

Once one understands that a text message travels wirelessly as a stowaway within a control channel, one sees the carriers’ pricing plans in an entirely new light. The most profitable plan for the carriers will be the one that collects the most revenue from the customer: unlimited messaging, for which AT&T and Sprint charge $20 a month and T-Mobile, $15.

Customers with unlimited plans, like diners bringing a healthy appetite to an all-you-can-eat cafeteria, might think they’re getting the best out of the arrangement. But the carriers, unlike the cafeteria owners, can provide unlimited quantities of “food” at virtually no cost to themselves — so long as it is served in bite-sized portions.

Bush Data Threatens to Overload Archives
Robert Pear and Scott Shane

The National Archives has put into effect an emergency plan to handle electronic records from the Bush White House amid growing doubts about whether its new $144 million computer system can cope with the vast quantities of digital data it will receive when President Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.

The technical challenge was an inevitable result of the explosion in cybercommunications, which will make the electronic record of the Bush years about 50 times as large as that left by the Clinton White House in 2001, archives officials estimate. The collection will include top-secret e-mail tracing plans for the Iraq war as well as scenes from the likes of Barney Cam 2008, a White House video featuring the first pet.

Under federal law, the government has “complete ownership, possession and control” of presidential and vice-presidential records. The moment Mr. Bush leaves office, the National Archives becomes legally responsible for “the custody, control and preservation” of the records.

Archives officials who disclosed the emergency plan said it would mean that the agency would initially take over parts of the White House storage system, freezing the contents on Jan. 20. Only later, after further study, will archivists try to move the records into the futuristic computer system they have devised as a repository for digital data.

Questions about the archives’ capacity have added a new element to the uneasiness felt by open-government advocates and historians, who already fear that departing White House officials, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, may not turn over everything. Mr. Cheney asserted this month in a court case that he had absolute discretion to decide which of his records are official and which are personal, and thus do not have to be transferred to the archives,

The National Archives has already begun trucking boxes of paper records from the White House to a warehouse it is leasing in Lewisville, Tex., not a great distance from where Mr. Bush’s presidential library is to be built, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The archives invoked its emergency plan to deal with problems in transferring two types of electronic files: a huge collection of digital photographs and the “records management system,” which provides an index to most of the textual records generated by Mr. Bush and his staff members in the last eight years.

Archivists said it could be weeks or months before these files could be indexed and searched.

In their plan, archives officials wrote, the transition poses “unique challenges” because of the huge volume of electronic records, some of them in “formats not previously dealt with.” Even though archivists have been working with the White House to survey the documents, “there is always a possibility that some electronic records may be overlooked,” the officials wrote.

If the electronic records of the Bush White House total 100 terabytes of information, as archives officials estimate, that would be about 50 times the volume of electronic records left behind by the Clinton White House in 2001 and some five times the contents of all 20 million catalogued books in the Library of Congress.

“It’s a monstrous volume of material, and some people wonder if the system can absorb it,” said Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History, a collection of 60 archival and historical groups.

Sam Watkins, a transition liaison officer at the archives, said his agency was expecting to receive 20 to 24 terabytes of e-mail alone from the Bush White House. By contrast, Mr. Watkins said, the volume of e-mail from the Clinton White House was less than one terabyte.

While some routine messages may be of little interest to historians, the law does not generally permit White House officials to pick which messages to preserve. And for an administration not documented by the tapes that captured the inside story of the Johnson and Nixon White Houses, e-mail may provide a substitute, historians say.

The archives said it had “a high level of confidence” that it could bring the e-mail into its electronic record-keeping system and retrieve messages in response to requests from Congress and the courts.

But Thomas S. Blanton, director of the nonprofit National Security Archive, a plaintiff in several lawsuits seeking Bush administration records, said the National Archives’ track record did not justify such a claim.

“Their confidence is inexplicable,” Mr. Blanton said.

Archives officials said they might have been better prepared for the transition if the White House had cooperated earlier.

Millions of White House e-mail messages created from 2003 to 2005 appear to be missing and may not be recoverable. And in September 2007, the top lawyer at the National Archives wrote in a memorandum that he had “made almost zero progress” planning the transition because the White House had ignored repeated requests for information about the volume and formats of electronic records.

In May of this year, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, found that “the administration has not yet provided specific information on the volume and types of data to be transferred” to the archives. Linda D. Koontz of the accountability office warned in May and again in September that the National Archives might not be ready for the torrent of electronic records on Jan. 20.

Questions remain about how quickly the archives will be able to make the records accessible to Congress, the courts and researchers, said Paul Brachfeld, the archives’ inspector general.

“The electronic records archives system may be able to take in a tremendous amount of e-mail and other records,” Mr. Brachfeld said. “But just because you ingest the data does not mean that people can locate, identify, recover and use the records they need.”

The contingency plan, quietly approved by the National Archives on Nov. 7, emphasizes the difficulties posed by large numbers of White House records created with proprietary commercial software.

Proprietary products can create problems because they quickly become obsolete, as anyone who has weathered the transition from VHS tape to DVDs can attest. The National Archives seeks to preserve electronic records in a form that can be used for decades to come.

Even if the technology were perfect, some historians, librarians and watchdog groups say they do not fully trust the administration to preserve its records.

Their worries were heightened by a filing by Mr. Cheney’s lawyers this month in a lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and other interest groups. The filing said neither the National Archives nor the court “may supervise the vice president or his office” for compliance with the Presidential Records Act.

“There’s some anxiety, particularly given the attitude of the office of the vice president toward records preservation and disclosure,” said Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists, who is editor of the online publication Secrecy News.

A Cheney spokesman, Megan M. Mitchell, said that his office had been handing over records to the archives “for some time now” and that concerns about the vice president’s intentions were misplaced.

“We will do everything we can under the law to preserve records,” Ms. Mitchell said.

But J. William Leonard, who stepped down in January as the top archives official overseeing classified records, said there was ample reason for skepticism.

Mr. Leonard, who clashed while in government with the vice president’s office, noted a remark that Mr. Cheney made in September 2007, at the presidential library of Gerald R. Ford, for whom Mr. Cheney once worked as White House chief of staff.

“I’m told researchers like to come and dig through my files, to see if anything interesting turns up,” Mr. Cheney said. “I want to wish them luck, but the files are pretty thin. I learned early on that if you don’t want your memos to get you in trouble some day, just don’t write any.”

[freenet-dev] Bye folks

Julien Cornuwel
Sat, 27 Dec 2008 12:47:20 -0800

I'm sorry to tell you that for some legal reasons (I live in France), I
have to stop working on Freenet. I've learned a lot with you guys and
I'm sad to have to say goodbye, but that's how it is when you live in a
so-called democracy...

I'm sure pOs will be able to finish the WoT plugin and make something
usable with it.
Dieppe is OK to continue the french translation.
Nextgens has already removed my mirror from the DNS.
I'm still looking for a server to host the french forum (punbb). It has
a very low traffic (about 10 messages per week).

Please revoke all my accesses to emu (shell, svn, email), remove my name
from the People page and remove my node from the freenode list.

Keep up the good work guys !


Windows 7 Beta 1 (Build 7000) Leaked On BitTorrent
Jason Chen

The Windows 7 Beta 1 that was public-bound in mid-January has been leaked now, and you can get a copy on BitTorrent.

The beta expires July 1, 2009, and from what we read, it's a bit more stable than the versions people have been playing with for a few months. Hit the links below to get a copy, if you're OK with the fact that you're technically not supposed to have this just yet. [My Digital Life via BlogsDNA via Technovedad via Download Squad]

Update: ZDNet also has a look at the beta over here, and they concur that it's pretty good:

# This beta is of excellent quality. This is the kind of code that you could roll out and live with. Even the pre-betas were solid, but finally this beta feels like it’s “done.” This beta exceeds the quality of any other Microsoft OS beta that I’ve handled.

Digital TV Converter Coupons in Short Supply
Kim Dixon

U.S. consumers who wait too long to request government coupons to subsidize converter boxes for the digital television transition in February may come up empty-handed, a regulator has warned.

Due to a last-minute rush of coupon requests, demand may exceed supply in the coming month, said the Department of Commerce official overseeing the subsidy program.

Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who asked for the update on the digital TV transition, said Congress may need to quickly pass additional funds in early January for the coupons.

Congress ordered the switch to digital signals, effective February 17, 2009, to free up public airwaves for other uses such as for police and fire departments.

The switch will mean improved picture and sound for TV viewers, but about 15 percent of the population rely on analog-only over-the-air signals and therefore need a converter box to keep their screens from going black.

The government program doling out $40 coupons to subsidize the converter boxes is likely to reach the $1.34-billion limit of its budgetary authority in the first week of January, said Meredith Attwell Baker, acting assistant secretary for Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

"Once the obligation ceiling is reached, the program will hold coupon requests until funds from unredeemed coupons become available," said Baker in the December 24 letter to Markey who chairs the House subcommittee on telecommunications and Internet matters.

"NTIA realizes that this would likely result in consumer confusion," she added. If the high demand continues at its current rate of more than 1.5 million requests per week, the agency could run out of coupons in late January.

There are about 60 models of boxes to choose from, costing between $40 and $90, before the coupon, according to Consumers Union, which produces the magazine Consumer Reports.

Markey said Baker's response was worrying. "It is becoming increasingly clear that at minimum Congress may need to quickly pass additional funding for the converter box program in early January," he said in a statement.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

Wal-Mart to Start Selling iPhones on Sunday
Jessica Wohl

Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Friday it will start selling Apple Inc's iPhone on Sunday, but the popular cell phones that can surf the web will not be priced as low as some anticipated.

Wal-Mart plans to sell the black 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G model, which also holds about 2,000 songs, for $197. The 16-gigabyte model, in black or white, will be priced at $297. All of the phones require a new two-year service agreement from AT&T Inc or a qualified upgrade, Wal-Mart said.

The move gives Apple the chance to reach millions of Wal-Mart shoppers who may not be as familiar with the company's products.

Wal-Mart typically appeals to a lower-income group of shoppers than those who buy Apple's Macintosh computers, iPods and iPhones, which are typically more expensive that other PCs and music players. But the world's largest retailer has also lured new customers seeking low prices in a recession.

Wal-Mart used discounts to draw in millions of cash-strapped shoppers during the holiday season. It was among the first to advertise its deals this fall, including hot electronics such as flat-screen televisions.

Numerous websites had previously speculated that Apple would offer a 4-gigabyte model of the iPhone for $99 at Wal-Mart stores. But the phones being sold at Wal-Mart are the same ones already on the market, for about $2 below the prices offered at other locations.

AT&T, the exclusive U.S. wireless service provider for iPhone, currently sells the cheapest version for $199 for a model with 8 gigabytes of storage, and $299 for the 16-gigabyte version. AT&T declined to comment.

Keeping The Traffic

Wal-Mart was one of few U.S. retailers whose sales fared well in the weeks after U.S. Thanksgiving and it is trying to keep shoppers coming back to its stores after Christmas. It ran a commercial on Friday morning showing a mother taking her son to Wal-Mart to spend the gift card he got for the holiday.

While the commercial did not refer to iPhones, it did show the pair heading into the electronics section of a Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart's move may put pressure on Best Buy Co Inc, the largest consumer electronics retailer. Until now, Best Buy had been the only retailer besides Apple's own stores and AT&T stores selling the iPhone.

Best Buy currently the 8-gigabyte iPhone on sale for $189.99 and the 16-gigabyte version for $289.99, each priced $10 less than their usual price at Best Buy.

Wal-Mart also said its stores could match local competitors' advertised prices during a promotional period.

The phones will be available in nearly 2,500 stores beginning Sunday, December 28.

Apple posted a stronger-than-expected 26 percent rise in fiscal fourth-quarter profit in October, spurred by strong sales of the faster, next-generation iPhones. Apple sold 6.89 million iPhones during the quarter, which ended on September 27.

Shares of Apple rose 81 cents to $85.85 in morning trading, while Wal-Mart rose 2 cents to $55.46. Best Buy was flat at $26.70.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl; Editing by Derek Caney)

Play Flute, Name a Tune or Even Make a Call
Matt Richtel and Laura M. Holson

So your cellphone has a brushed-metal shell, can flip and slide four ways and has more buttons than an airplane cockpit. Big deal.

The new status symbol is what your phone can do — count calories, teach Spanish, simulate a flute, or fling a monkey from a tree.

With the advent of touch-screen technology and faster wireless networks, the new competition and cool factor revolves around thousands of fun, quirky (and even useful) programs that run on the phones.

The popularity of such applications for Apple’s iPhone, the leader of the transformation, is driving a fierce competition among the makers of the BlackBerry and Palm devices, and even Google and Microsoft.

It heralds a new era in the allure of a mobile device — the phone is no longer a fashion statement but a digital bag of tricks.

“Just having the iPhone a year ago was special, but now you have to exceed that,” said James Katz, executive director of the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers. “The apps are a wonderful, wild and woolly world of interpersonal bragging rights.”

“It’s status for the rest of us,” he said.

Since July, Apple has posted more than 10,000 programs to its App Store; 9 out of every 10 iPhone users have downloaded applications — more than 300 million over all, though those include software updates and repeat downloads. Some applications are free (like Stanza, which lets you download and read books) while others typically cost $1 to $10.

Other applications help users navigate roads, find friends and local restaurants, and play odd games, including one called Sapus Tongue, in which the user swings the phone to see how far he can fling an animated monkey on the screen.

Recognizing the business opportunities, the other major cellphone and software companies are getting into the app act.

Google recently introduced the Android Market, selling applications based on Android, its operating system for cellphones. In the spring, Research in Motion plans to introduce an application store for its BlackBerry devices. Palm is thinking of retooling its software strategy, while Microsoft is in the early stages of creating its own store for phones running Windows Mobile.

Users say some programs can genuinely help productivity, but more often than not, they are time-wasting and sometimes — by showing off the powerful computing power of phones — jaw-dropping.

One popular application called Shazam lets users hold the phone up to a radio to identify within seconds what song is playing and by whom — and then give users a way to buy it on Apple’s iTunes Store, of course. The current most popular download, which costs 99 cents and has an impolite name, lets the phone simulate the sound of flatulence.

The applications have also become a form of social currency, as users compete to find the latest quirk, show off to friends or best one another with their discoveries.

Peter Szurley, a lawyer in San Francisco, used his phone at a meeting two weeks ago to break the ice. At an Italian restaurant, he started the meal with a new client by pulling out his iPhone, putting it to his lips, blowing into the microphone slot and moving his fingers across the touch screen. From the phone emanated the sounds of a flute.

The application he was showing is called Ocarina. A 99-cent program that turns the phone into a digital flute, Ocarina is one of the most popular applications, having been downloaded by more than 400,000 iPhone owners.

“He was just blown away,” Mr. Szurley said of his lunch companion. “He had a BlackBerry. You can’t do that with a BlackBerry.”

Mr. Szurley also downloaded an application that gives him a news feed from CNN, and another performs currency conversion.

Ian Mackey uses a program called Labyrinth, in which the user tilts the motion-sensitive phone to carefully to guide a ball through a maze and avoid holes.

He also has a helicopter shooting game and an application called iBeer that lets him tilt the phone back to make it look as if his guzzling a frosty cold one. That’s about as close as he plans to come to actual beer for awhile; he’s 11, a sixth grader in Los Altos, Calif., who inherited his dad’s old iPhone.

He says it is a big hit with the children at school. “I show them the apps and they like to play with it when we’re hanging out after school,” Ian said. Other youngsters have some cool new phones, too, but “they don’t have a little place where you can go and download an app.”

The concept of add-on applications long predates the iPhone; for a decade, hand-held devices made by Palm have had software as diverse as a bartending guide or a renal artery stenosis calculator for doctors.

But the concept attained mass-market popularity in July with Apple’s introduction of the App Store. An iPhone user can download software to the phone in seconds.

For its part, Google has about 300 applications available. Among the most popular is ShopSavvy, in which users scan the bar code of any product using the camera built into the G1 smartphone from T-Mobile. The application, which is free, then searches for the best price online and delivers the information to the phone.

Google says it earns nothing from the applications. Instead, any revenue is split between developers, who earn 70 percent, and, in the case of the G1, with the carrier.

While Apple takes 30 percent of all revenue from the store, selling applications is not just about the fees. Offering applications also helps Apple sell more iPhones. Its current advertisements, and those of its carrier partner, AT&T, market the applications, not the phone.

Matt Murphy, a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, which operates a $100 million fund for iPhone application developers, said this was a new kind of business: selling people not the phone itself, but the applications that can come with it.

“What you can do on a phone is driving the kind people buy,” Mr. Murphy said. “Whatever phone offers the best applications wins.”

Hackers Finally Unlock iPhone
John Lister

2009 has got off to a great start for a team of iPhone enthusiasts with little regard for Apple's licensing requirements. They've finally figured out a way to get the phone to work with any cell phone carrier (and not just AT&T).

The iPhone Dev Team are best known for their work on 'jailbreaking': the technique of altering an iPhone so that you can run any applications on it, not just those approved by Apple. Given the company's questionable vetting policy for entry to the official App store, it's not surprising many users approve of jailbreaking.

There's an ongoing battle with each new edition of the iPhone software disabling this trick, but the iPhone Dev crew has a history of finding a new solution within a couple of days.

One of the team has even figured out a way to get the iPhone running on the Linux Operating System, though at the moment there are no drivers, which limits the device's interaction with the operating system.

Of course, the big prize for these developers (or 'hackers,' as Apple would call them) is unlocking the phone.

Unlocking is possible through an application titled 'yellowsn0w,' which is available from the iPhone Dev Team's site. Bear in mind that this program is entirely unofficial and unsanctioned, and there's no guarantee it will work now or in the future, or leave your phone unharmed for that matter.

Unlocking the phone gives users the ability to switch to a different network (perhaps one which offers a more reliable coverage) or even use pre-paid SIM cards when traveling overseas. Currently, AT&T has exclusive rights to provide service to the iPhone in the United States.

While Apple is able to live with jailbreaking because it has little effect on its own App Store sales, the firm is likely to be much less tolerant of unlocking. That's because it undermines the servicing deal with AT&T -- and without that, the company would likely have to charge much more for the original sale of the devices. (Source: boygeniusreport.com)

When the Call of the Wild Is Nothing but the Phone in Your Pocket
Felicity Barringer

Remember when cellphone ring tones mostly advertised personal musical tastes (Beyoncé, Metallica, “The 1812 Overture”) or parental pride (babies cooing)? The chance to make political statements with this seemingly omnipresent speaker system went largely unexploited. But that was before endangered-species ring tones were born.

Now, from Siberia to the ski slopes of the French Alps, from Manitoba to Brazil, tens of thousands of phones howl, hoot, trill, screech, croak or emit the haunting song of whales.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group based in Arizona known more for litigating on behalf of endangered creatures than building a choral repertoire around them, introduced the ring tones in 2006 and has been counting downloads the way Billboard counts album sales. The new tally: 200,000, a milestone of sorts. (They are most popular, after the United States and Britain, in China and Iran.)

Bumper stickers produce instant reactions, pro and con, said Peter Galvin, the center’s conservation director. But with wildlife sounds, Mr. Galvin added, “people don’t already have their filters on for how they receive that information.”

“It’s powerful,” he continued. “Any kind of music or sound influences people and how people think.”

Renditions of frogs and owls consumed researchers in the early days. But the list of more than 80 sounds has expanded to include animals that, though not yet endangered, can belt it out with the best of them, like the pika, a rodent dwelling in the Southwestern mountains in the United States, whose cool climes are threatened by climate change. The killer whale and the Mexican gray wolf, both endangered, are currently Nos. 1 and 2 on the charts.

The more endangered a bird or beast, the harder to record it. Jon Slaght, a Ph.D. candidate in wildlife conservation at the University of Minnesota, spent days slogging recording gear around the Russian Far East, in minus-30-degree weather, to get not just the hoot of the world’s largest owl — the Blakiston’s fish owl — but also the far less melodious cry of its offspring. It is this juvenile call that now summons Mr. Slaght to the phone.

“It’s a little embarrassing when I’m in a public place,” he said. “It’s a really grating, unpleasant noise.” But, he added, “it does get you to answer your phone.”

It is incumbent upon downloaders to remember what they downloaded. Grace Matthews, a 19-year-old biology student at the University of Birmingham in England, took a skiing holiday last week in the French Alps. At one point, she skied away from her companions and into a snowy, dusky forest area. Alone, moving at a good clip on the steep slopes, she was startled by the howl of a wolf.

“I very nearly crashed,” Ms. Matthews said in an interview.

In a separate e-mail message, she added, “It took me several long moments to realize I was being phoned, and not hunted.”

Warner Bros Blacks Out "Dark Knight" from China

The Warner Bros studio said on Wednesday it has canceled plans to release its blockbuster Batman movie "The Dark Knight" in China, citing "cultural sensitivities" surrounding the film.

The studio, a unit of Time Warner Inc, did not specify what Chinese audiences or censors might find objectionable about the movie.

"Based on a number of pre-release conditions that are being attached to 'The Dark Knight,' as well as cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film, we have opted to forego a theatrical release of the film in China," Warner Bros said in a statement.
The film includes a sequence in which Batman, the movie's comic book superhero played by Christian Bale, penetrates a criminal mastermind's skyscraper redoubt in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

"The Dark Knight," which was released in July, is the top-grossing film of the year with more than $996 million in worldwide ticket sales, including over $7.5 million in Hong Kong, according to the website Box Office Mojo.

The film also has earned the late Australian actor Heath Ledger a Golden Globe nomination for his final role as Batman's maniacally evil foe, the Joker.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman)

MP3 Player Guides Rescuers to Lost Tourists

The light from an MP3 player saved two lost tourists from a chilly night stuck out in the snowy Swiss mountains, rescue authorities said Saturday.

The two -- a skier and snowboarder, both from France -- had got lost late in the day Friday outside marked runs near the resort of Savognin in southeast Switzerland, said Gery Baumann, spokesman for mountain rescue service Rega.

They were able to alert authorities using a mobile phone, but it then ran out of battery power, Baumann said.

"The two winter sports enthusiasts were found by the crew of the Rega helicopter shortly after midnight -- thanks to the faint light of their MP3 player," he said.

The two men had only mild hypothermia, despite temperatures falling as low as 15 degrees Celsius.

(Reporting by Sam Cage; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

The Metadata is the Message

Did the NSA's Warrantless Wiretap Program include large-scale domestic surveillance?
Matt Blaze

Warrantless wiretapping is back in the news, thanks largely to Michael Isikoff's cover piece in the December 22 issue of Newsweek. We now know that the principal source for James Risen and Eric Lichtblau's Pulitzer Prize winning article that broke the story three years ago in the New York Times was a Justice department official named Thomas M. Tamm. Most of the current attention, naturally, has focused on Tamm and on whether, as Newsweek's tagline put it, he's "a hero or a criminal". Having never in my life faced an ethical dilemma on the magnitude of Tamm's -- weighing betrayal of one trust against the service of another -- I can't help but wonder what I'd have done in his shoes. Whistleblowing is inherently difficult, morally ambiguous territory. At best there are murky shades of gray, inevitably viewed through the myopic lenses of individual loyalties, fears, and ambitions, to say nothing of the prospect of life-altering consequences that might accompany exposure. Coupled with the high stakes of national security and civil liberties, it's hard not to think about Tamm in the context of another famously anonymous source, the late Mark Felt (known to a generation only as Watergate's "Deep Throat").

But an even more interesting revelation -- one ultimately far more troubling -- can be found in a regrettably less prominent sidebar to the main Newsweek story, entitled "Now we know what the battle was about", by Daniel Klaidman. Put together with other reports about the program, it lends considerable credence to claims that telephone companies (including my alma matter AT&T) provided the NSA with wholesale access to purely domestic calling records, on a scale beyond what has been previously acknowledged.

The sidebar casts new light on one of the more dramatic episodes to leak out of Washington in recent memory; quoting Newsweek:

It is one of the darkly iconic scenes of the Bush Administration. In March 2004, two of the president's most senior advisers rushed to a Washington hospital room where they confronted a bedridden John Ashcroft. White House chief of staff Andy Card and counsel Alberto Gonzales pressured the attorney general to renew a massive domestic-spying program that would lapse in a matter of days. But others hurried to the hospital room, too. Ashcroft's deputy, James Comey, later joined by FBI Director Robert Mueller, stood over Ashcroft's bed to make sure the White House aides didn't coax their drugged and bleary colleague into signing something unwittingly. The attorney general, sick and pain-racked from a rare pancreatic disease, rose up from his bed, gathering what little strength he had, and firmly told the president's emissaries that he would not sign their papers.

White House hard-liners would make one more effort -- getting the president to recertify the program on his own, relying on his powers as commander in chief. But in the end, with an election looming and the entire political leadership of the Justice Department poised to resign rather than carry out orders they thought to be illegal, Bush backed down. The rebels prevailed.
Like most people, I had assumed that the incident concerned the NSA's interception (without the benefit of court warrants) of the contents of telephone and Internet traffic between the US and foreign targets. That program is at best a legal gray area, the subject of several lawsuits, and the impetus behind Congress' recent (and I think quite ill-advised) retroactive grant of immunity to telephone companies that provided the government with access without proper legal authority.

But that, apparently, wasn't was this was about at all. Instead, again quoting Newsweek:

Two knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that the clash erupted over a part of Bush's espionage program that had nothing to do with the wiretapping of individual suspects. Rather, Comey and others threatened to resign because of the vast and indiscriminate collection of communications data. These sources, who asked not to be named discussing intelligence matters, describe a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was "Stellar Wind," though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it "SW." (The NSA says it has "no information or comment"; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)
While it may seem on the surface to involve little more than arcane and legalistic hairsplitting, that the battle was about records rather than content is actually quite surprising. And it raises new -- and rather disturbing -- questions about the nature of the wiretapping program, and especially about the extent of its reach into the domestic communications of innocent Americans.

The issue has to do with a peculiarity of US surveillance law. There are generally stricter requirements for wiretaps that intercept call content than for those that record only transactional data (who called whom and when). The legal rationale for this distinction is complex but has its origins in how wireline telephones worked and were used in the last century. There is a theory that while a telephone call's audio is intended only for other party, the numbers dialed have already been given voluntarily to a third party -- the phone company -- and thus are legally less "private". And there is a basic assumption about the kinds of privacy we value most. Being listened in on has been thought to be inherently more invasive than having one's calling records examined. So the government can obtain transactional records relatively easily, under a lower legal standard than what is required for a full content tap.

Modern computing and communications technology may make these assumptions less valid than they were when the legal theories of wiretapping were developed. As electronic communication pervades more of our daily lives, transaction records -- metadata -- can reveal quite a bit about us, indeed often much more than a few out-of-context conversations might. Aggregated into databases with other people's records (or perhaps everyone's records) and analyzed by powerful software, metadata by itself can paint a remarkably detailed picture of connections, relationships, and other patterns that could never be recovered simply from listening to the conversations themselves. Metadata can also be analyzed retrospectively, since calling records are now kept by phone companies for every customer, not just the suspects. And the very distinction between content and metadata defies easy translation into the Internet, where whether something is content or not can depend entirely on where in the network the question is being asked.

But that's beside the point here. Rightly or wrongly, current law treats metadata differently from content. In particular, it's legally simpler under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for the government to obtain telephone records than it is to intercept actual telephone call audio. All that is required, in general, is an assertion that the specific records involved are likely to be germane to a investigation, a relatively undemanding standard to meet. Content taps, on the other hand, require evidence of probable cause and are subject to more judicial scrutiny.

So how could it have been on that night in 2004 that these officials were comfortable with the legality of intercepting trans-border call content without a FISA warrant -- something apparently expressly forbidden under the law -- and yet drew the line when it came to collecting call records? That would seem, based on longstanding principles of surveillance law, to get it backwards. What kind of records could have provoked such a reaction, and did their collection and use violate the privacy of ordinary Americans in ways that go beyond what is already known about the program?

The Newsweek sidebar raises more questions than it answers here, but piecing together various details from previous reports about the program suggests likely possibilities.

NSA mining of traffic metadata obtained directly from US telephone switches appears to have first been reported by the New York Times in December, 2005 (two weeks after they broke the story of the wiretap program itself). However, that article focused primarily on trans-border traffic on switches at the edge of the US, the very same traffic from which call audio was also being intercepted. So it seems unlikely that collecting call records exclusively from those switches would raise special concerns for officials who believed that they were permitted to collect the content without warrants.

Two years later, in 2007, the Times reported that the FBI had been asking US telephone companies for extended "community of interest" data about various terrorism suspects. That is, the FBI obtained not just calling records of their suspects, but also the calling patters of everyone they communicated with, even those not suspected of wrongdoing. However, there are several differences between the kind of large-scale metadata collection suggested by Newsweek and the FBI program described by the Times. In the Times article, the FBI used secret "National Security Letters" to obtain data from telephone companies about the communities of specific targets, which implies a more limited scope, involving far fewer people's records, than an NSA program of the kind described by Newsweek would have had.

However, still another Times piece, written by John Markoff in 2006, reported that law enforcement officers with subpoenas were sometimes been given restricted access to data mining software on AT&T's Daytona database of domestic and international call records. And an article by Leslie Cauley in USA Today later that year suggested that the NSA was mining domestic call detail records provided by several carriers. More specifically, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has alleged in a lawsuit that the NSA had been given relatively unrestricted access, without subpoenas, to all or most of the AT&T Daytona database as part of the warrantless wiretap program,

Notably, the large-scale domestic metadata collection that made Comey and Mueller so uneasy is strikingly consistent with the 2006 news reports and the EFF lawsuit's claims about NSA access to Daytona, since AT&T's call database captures a substantial fraction of US citizens' domestic, and not just international, traffic. If the NSA made use of unrestricted access to this database (and perhaps of analogous databases maintained by other carriers), this would be cause for precisely the kinds of legal concerns described by Newsweek. While the law puts fewer restrictions on metadata collection than on content tapping, it still requires that records requests be focused on specific targets, and definitely does not allow the NSA to have wholesale access to databases of every telephone user's domestic calls.

If this was indeed what was going on -- and the recent Newsweek sidebar seems to corroborate it -- it would represent a much more invasive reach into the private lives of innocent Americans by the NSA than previous reports about the program have been able to confirm. And if AT&T really provided the government with sweeping access to the calling records of all its customers, that would be a huge personal disappointment -- not only a violation of the law, but a betrayal of the fundamental privacy values instilled into me from my very first day at Bell Labs, and that, I had genuinely believed, were embedded in the core of the company's culture.

So I hope I'm wrong. But the very least, the Newsweek piece underscores the importance of investigating just what happened. We all deserve to know.

Private Firm May Track All Email and Calls

'Hellhouse' of personal data will be created, warns former DPP
Alan Travis and Richard Norton-Taylor

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But in his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a "hellhouse" of personal private information.

"Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything," said Macdonald. "All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen."

The home secretary postponed the introduction of legislation to set up the superdatabase in October and instead said she would publish a consultation paper in the new year setting out the proposal and the safeguards needed to protect civil liberties. She has emphasised that communications data, which gives the police the identity and location of the caller, texter or web surfer but not the content, has been used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and almost all security service operations since 2004 including the Soham and 21/7 bombing cases.

Until now most communications traffic data has been held by phone companies and internet service providers for billing purposes but the growth of broadband phone services, chatrooms and anonymous online identities mean that is no longer the case.

The Home Office's interception modernisation programme, which is working on the superdatabase proposal, argues that it is no longer good enough for communications companies to be left to retrieve such data when requested by the police and intelligence services. A Home Office spokeswoman said last night the changes were needed so law enforcement agencies could maintain their ability to tackle serious crime and terrorism.

Senior Whitehall officials responsible for planning for a new database say there is a significant difference between having access to "communications data" - names and addresses of emails or telephone numbers, for example - and the actual contents of the communications. "We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing any content of emails, texts or conversations," the spokeswoman said.

External estimates of the cost of the superdatabase have been put as high as £12bn, twice the cost of the ID cards scheme, and the consultation paper, to be published towards the end of next month, will include an option of putting it into the hands of the private sector in an effort to cut costs. But such a decision is likely to fuel civil liberties concerns over data losses and leaks. Macdonald, who left his post as DPP in October, told the Guardian: "The tendency of the state to seek ever more powers of surveillance over its citizens may be driven by protective zeal. But the notion of total security is a paranoid fantasy which would destroy everything that makes living worthwhile. We must avoid surrendering our freedom as autonomous human beings to such an ugly future. We should make judgments that are compatible with our status as free people."

Maintaining the capacity to intercept suspicious communications was critical in an increasingly complex world, he said. "It is a process which can save lives and bring criminals to justice. But no other country is considering such a drastic step. This database would be an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information," he said. "It would be a complete readout of every citizen's life in the most intimate and demeaning detail. No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls."

The moment there was a security crisis the temptation for more commonplace access would be irresistible, he said.

Other critics of the plan point to the problems of keeping the database secure, both from the point of view of the technology and of deliberate leaks. The problem would be compounded if private companies manage the system. "If there is a breach of security in that database it would be utterly devastating," one said.

Blogger Writes from Inside the Newest Police State on the Planet

What would it be like if all those anti-privacy laws you keep hearing about passed? Just ask someone who lives in India.

When it comes to countries in North America, it's not often that India reaches the headlines unless a Canadian or an American is involved in the story. Then again, there is the occasional report that does offer a small glimpse into what it is like to live in the digital environment of India. A blogger from India recently wrote a piece about the new surveillance laws of India and the arguments used to pass it as well as some of the provisions that were mentioned seemed surprisingly similar to that of laws being brought forth to legislators in countries like Australia, Britain and what is currently being talked about in the United States.

Sometimes, reports like these raises the question of validity, so we took some initiative and verified what was happening through a business article writing in 2007 that suggests that the Indian security market then was worth $170 million. In December of 2008, though, an article essentially proved that legislation referenced in that article was, in fact, passed in India.

The legislation that is being discussed was known as "The Information Technology (Amendment) Bill". The posting says that under these new laws and amendments, the government is now allowed to "intercept messages from mobile phones, computers and other communication devices to investigate any offence. Not just cognizable offence, the kind you witnessed in Mumbai 26/11, but any offence."

Those two sentences alone sounds like the US's FISA act on steroids. It could very well have been inspired by laws from the United States, but other provisions discussed sounds more like provisions currently being proposed in Australia. the blogger writes, "Around 45 amendments have been made to the original Act, which now treats both publishers of online pornography and its consumers on equal footing. A law so sweeping in its powers that it allows a police officer in the rank of a sub-inspector to walk in or break in to the privacy of your home and see if you were surfing porn or not."

It's an observation that would make just about any digital rights activist's skin crawl. The blogger creatively sums up a number of provisions with the following:

• Thou shall not author a joke. Not even forward one

• Thou shall not surf Bollywood news

• Thou shall not watch porn

As reported by MediaNama, the bill passed the lower house in a hurry and without debate.

Wikipedia is also keeping tabs on the legislation saying that "The Bill has since been passed in the Parliament on December 23, 2008. It is awaiting assent of the President and formal notification. The Bill as passed has many changes from the earlier draft indicated in the previous paragraph and incorporates the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee."

Apparently, one of the arguments going back and forth looked a bit like this:

‘So what?’ is the familiar rhetoric. Why fear if you've got nothing to hide? Why should law abiding citizens be bothered about some 'inevitable invasion' into privacy in the wake of increasing terror attacks? After all the perpetrators of terror are known to use Internet and other modern communication tools to plan and execute deadly strikes like that happened in Mumbai.

There is only one answer and it is a Thomas Jefferson quote: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

One observation one can make from this legislation is that it almost appears to be taking some of the worst ideas proposed by many countries around the world and gluing them together in a piece of legislation. It seems to be just another disturbing instance of governments around the world gaining sweeping new powers, sacrificing privacy in the process.
http://www.zeropaid.com/news/9937/Bl...n+the+Pl anet

Entire Transcript of RIAA's Only Trial Now Online

The entire transcript of the RIAA's "perfect storm", its first and only trial, which resulted in a $222,000 verdict in a case involving 24 MP3's having a retail value of $23.76, is now available online. After over a year of trying, we have finally obtained the transcript of the Duluth, Minnesota, jury trial which took place October 2, 2007, to October 4, 2007, in Capitol Records v. Thomas. Its 643 pages represent a treasure trove for (a) lawyers representing defendants in other RIAA cases, (b) technologists anxious to see how a MediaSentry investigator and the RIAA's expert witness combined to convince the jurors that the RIAA had proved its case, and (c) anybody interested in finding out about such things as the early-morning October 4th argument in which the RIAA lawyer convinced the judge to make the mistake which forced him to eventually vacate the jury's verdict, and the testimony of SONY BMG's Jennifer Pariser in which she "misspoke" according to the RIAA's Cary Sherman when she testified under oath that making a copy from one's CD to one's computer is "stealing". The transcript was a gift from the "Joel Fights Back Against RIAA" team defending SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum, in Boston, Massachusetts. I have the transcript in 3 segments: October 2nd (278 pages(PDF), October 3rd (263 pages)(PDF), and October 4th (100 pages)(PDF).

Skaters Jump in as Foreclosures Drain the Pool
Jesse McKinley and Malia Wollan

On a recent morning, a 27-year-old skateboarder who goes by the name Josh Peacock peered into a swimming pool in Fresno, Calif., emptied by his own hands — and the foreclosure crisis — and flashed a smile as wide as a half-pipe.

“We have more pools than we know what to do with,” said Mr. Peacock, who lives in Fresno, the Central Valley city where thousands of homes, many with pools behind them, are in foreclosure. “I can’t even keep track of them all anymore.”

Across the nation, the ultimate symbol of suburban success has become one more reminder of the economic meltdown, with builders going under, pools going to seed and skaters finding a surplus of deserted pools in which to perfect their acrobatic aerials.

In these boom times for skaters, Mr. Peacock travels with a gas-powered pump, five-gallon buckets, shovels and a push broom, risking trespassing charges in the pursuit of emptying forlorn pools and turning them into de facto skate parks.

“We can just hit them back to back,” said Mr. Peacock, who preferred to give his skateboarding name because of the illegality of his activities.

Skaters are coming to places like Fresno from as far as Germany and Australia. Mr. Peacock said his floor and couch were covered by sleeping bags of visiting skateboarders each weekend.

Some skateboarders use realty tracking sites like realquest.com and realtor.com to find foreclosed houses with pools, while others trawl through satellite images from Google Earth. On the Web site skateandannoy.com, where skaters trade tips about how to find and drain abandoned pools, one poster wrote about the current economic malaise. “God bless Greenspan,” the post read, “patron saint of pool skatin’.”

Pool builders feel differently, of course. In Phoenix, for example, where scorching summers can make pools seem like a survival tool, the city has issued fewer than half the number of residential pool permits this year as in 2007, as builders are being pummeled by declining home construction and evaporating credit for potential buyers. Several large companies have gone bust this year, including Riviera Pools, which once sponsored the swimming pool at Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play baseball. Smaller contractors, retailers and pool cleaning companies have also failed, leaving unpaid bills and unfinished projects.

“You’ve got people that still want to build pools, but now you’re getting maybe 20 percent or 10 percent that can actually qualify now,” said Dave Brandenburg, a pool builder in north Phoenix who estimated business was off 40 percent to 70 percent. “Before it was, ‘Sure, no problem.’ Now it’s like, ‘Sorry.’ ”

Business is just as bad in Florida, where builders like Ben Evans, the chief executive at American Pools and Spas in Orlando, said he had let much of his staff go as orders for pools dropped to 150 this year, from about 1,000 in 2007.

“I’m just looking for my bailout money,” Mr. Evans said, ruefully. “Do you know where that is?”

In many warmer states, the authorities are trying literally to bail out pools, using pumps, dredges and strong stomachs to attack a surge in abandoned ones that have attracted all manner of nastiness — rats or belligerent raccoons, or algae, dead leaves and worse. These so-called green pools can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus.

California officials estimate that there are tens of thousands of abandoned pools in the state, with as many as 5,000 in places like Sacramento County, where a building boom in the capital’s suburbs has gone bust. California law calls for fines of up to $1,000 per day for egregious cases of pools left with standing water, but officials say the sheer numbers of cases are daunting.

John Rusmisel, the district manager for Alameda County’s mosquito abatement district, said he used a promotional company that flies banners over football games and other events to help find the fetid swimming pools.

“They were up there seeing all these funky pools,” said Mr. Rusmisel, who added that his workload had doubled in the last year. “So they just started to take pictures.”

Once he finds a problem pool, his workers treat it with a combination of insecticide and mosquitofish, pinky-size carp that find mosquito larvae delectable. But they do not empty any pools, he said, because in a good rain, an empty pool can be partially lifted out of the hole by groundwater, he said. “I’ve seen them float up a foot or two,” Mr. Rusmisel said.

Dirk Voss, a code enforcement agent in Oxnard, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles, said even those residents who manage to stay in their homes often could not maintain the pool. “They don’t want to pay for the power to run the motor or pay for the chemicals to treat them,” Mr. Voss said.

But skaters do not mind doing the work, whether it is that of scouting for pools or scouring them. Adam Morgan, 28, a skater from Los Angeles, said it used to take months to find a good skating pool. Now the task is a breeze.

“There are more pools right now than I could possibly skate,” Mr. Morgan said. “It’s pretty exciting.” Mr. Peacock travels around town in his pickup searching for the addresses of homes he has learned have been foreclosed on, either via the Internet or from a friend who works in real estate. He has also learned to spot a foreclosed house, he said, by looking for “dead grass on the lawn and lockboxes on the front door.”

Once he has found a pool he likes — he prefers older, kidney-shaped ones — he drains the water into the gutter with his pool pump, sometimes setting up orange cones on the sidewalk to appear more official. Later, he returns to shovel out the muck, and then lets the pool dry. In order to maintain a sense of public service, the skateboarders adhere to basic rules: no graffiti, pack out trash and never mess with or enter the houses.

A day or two later, the skating begins, often in short bursts during the workday to avoid disturbing neighbors or attracting police attention. Twice in recent weeks, Mr. Peacock said, the police caught the skateboarders in an empty pool and demanded they leave but did not issue citations.

Mr. Peacock said he was helping the environment. “I’m doing the city a favor,” he said, by emptying fetid pools. “They’re always talking about West Nile on the news. Those little fish can only eat so much.”

TV News Winds Down Operations on Iraq War
Brian Stelter

Quietly, as the United States presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, America’s three broadcast network news divisions have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq.

“The war has gone on longer than a lot of news organizations’ ability or appetite to cover it,” said Jane Arraf, a former Baghdad bureau chief for CNN who has remained in Iraq as a contract reporter for The Christian Science Monitor.

Joseph Angotti, a former vice president of NBC News, said he could not recall any other time when all three major broadcast networks lacked correspondents in an active war zone that involved United States forces.

Except, of course, in Afghanistan, where about 30,000 Americans are stationed, and where until recently no American television network, broadcast or cable, maintained a full-time bureau.

At the same time that news organizations are trimming in Iraq, the television networks are trying to add newspeople in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with expectations that the Obama administration will focus on the conflict there.

Of course, the Iraq war has evolved and violence in the country has subsided. At the same time, President-elect Barack Obama and senior military strategists generally agree that tensions have risen in Afghanistan, leading to more violence and unrest.

In short, the story, certainly on television, is shifting to Afghanistan.

CNN now has a reporter assigned to the country at all times.

Michael Yon, an independent reporter who relies on contributions from Internet users to report from both areas of conflict, has already perceived a shift in both media and reader attention from Iraq to Afghanistan. “Afghanistan was the forgotten war; that’s what they were calling it, actually,” he said. “Now it’s swapping places with Iraq.”

For Mr. Yon and others who continue to cover Iraq, the cutbacks are a disheartening reminder of the war’s diminishing profile at a time when about 130,000 United States service members remain on duty there. More than 4,200 Americans and an undetermined number of Iraqis have died in fighting there since 2003.

ABC, CBS and NBC declined to speak on the record about their news coverage decisions. But representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics.

In Baghdad, ABC, CBS and NBC still maintain skeleton bureaus in heavily fortified compounds. Correspondents rotate in and out when stories warrant, and with producers and Iraqi employees remaining in Baghdad, the networks can still react to breaking news. But employees who are familiar with the staffing pressures of the networks say the bureaus are a shadow of what they used to be. Some of the offices have only one Western staff member.

The staff cuts appear to be the latest evidence of budget pressures at the networks. And those pressures are not unique to television: many newspapers and magazines have also curtailed their presence in Baghdad. As a consequence, the war is gradually fading from television screens, newspapers and, some worry, the consciousness of the American public.

The TV networks have talked about sharing some resources in Iraq, although similar discussions have stalled in the past because of concerns about editorial independence. Parisa Khosravi, CNN’s senior vice president for international newsgathering, said such talks among the networks were not currently under way.

But journalists in Iraq expect further cooperative agreements and other pooling of resources in the months ahead. ABC and the British Broadcasting Corporation, longtime partners on polling in Iraq, may consolidate some back office operations early in 2009, two people with knowledge of the talks said. The people spoke anonymously because they were not authorized by the networks to talk about the plans.

One result is that, as the war claims fewer American lives, Iraq is fading from TV screens. The three network evening newscasts devoted 423 minutes to Iraq this year as of Dec. 19, compared with 1,888 minutes in 2007, said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant.

In the early months of the war, television images out of Iraq were abundant. “But clearly, viewers’ appetite for stories from Iraq waned when it turned from all-out battle into something equally important but more difficult to describe and cover,” Ms. Arraf said. She recalled hearing one of her TV editors say, “I don’t want to see the same old pictures of soldiers kicking down doors.”

“You can imagine how much more tedious it would be to watch soldiers running meetings on irrigation,” she said.

It is an expensive and dangerous operation to run at a time of diminishing resources and audience interest.

“Some news organizations just cannot afford to be there,” Mr. Yon, the independent reporter, said. “And the ones who can are starting to shift resources over to Afghanistan.”

CNN and the Fox News Channel, both cable news channels with 24 hours to fill, each keep one correspondent in Iraq. Among newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post continue to assign multiple reporters to the country. The Associated Press and Reuters also have significant operations in Iraq.

Stories from Iraq that are strongly visual — as when an Iraqi journalist tossed two shoes at President Bush this month — are still covered by the networks, though often with footage from freelance crews and video agencies.

“But these other stories — ones that require knowledge of Iraq, like the political struggles that are going on — are going uncovered,” Mr. Angotti said.

Mike Boettcher, a Baghdad correspondent for NBC News from 2005 to 2007, said nightly news segments and embed assignments with military units occurred less frequently as the war continued.

“Americans like their wars movie length and with a happy ending,” Mr. Boettcher said. “If the war drags on and there is no happy ending, Americans start to squirm in their seats. In the case of television news, they began changing the channel when a story from Iraq appeared.”

A year ago, Mr. Boettcher left NBC after the network rejected his proposal for a “permanent embed” in Iraq and he started the project on his own. In August, he and his son Carlos, 22, started a 15-month embed assignment with American forces in Iraq. His reporting appears online at NoIgnoring.com.

Iraq has been, according to some executives, the most expensive war ever for TV news organizations.

Most of the costs go for the security teams that protect each bureau and travel with reporters. Iraq remains the deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to a report compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Nov. 30, a National Public Radio correspondent and three local staff members survived an apparent assassination attempt in Baghdad when a bomb detonated under their armored vehicle.

Keeping fewer people stationed in Iraq and traveling on assignment often cuts costs for the news organizations. In an unrelated interview this month, Alexandra Wallace, an NBC News vice president, said the network had correspondents in Iraq “most of the time.”

“If a bomb blew up in the green zone and Richard Engel wasn’t there, we do have an option,” she said. Mr. Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, rotates in and out of Baghdad.

Mr. Boettcher is not convinced. “Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it,” he said. “Sad.”

Child-Porn Cartoon Conviction Upheld

Federal appeals panel rules porn is porn even if it's drawn

Child pornography is illegal even if the pictures are drawn, a federal appeals panel said in affirming the nation's first conviction under a 2003 federal law against such cartoons.

Dwight Whorley of Richmond is serving 20 years in prison, convicted in 2005 of using a public computer for job-seekers at the Virginia Employment Commission to receive 20 Japanese cartoons, called anime, illustrating young girls being forced to have sex with men. Whorley also received digital photographs of actual children engaging in sexual conduct and sent and received e-mails graphically describing parents sexually molesting their children.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld his conviction.

Among the arguments in his appeal was that cartoons are protected under the First Amendment because they do not depict real children. He also claimed the statute is unconstitutional because text-only e-mails cannot be obscene.

Two judges rejected those arguments. A third agreed with Whorley on those issues but joined the majority in affirming his convictions on the counts pertaining to photographs.

Judge Paul V. Niemeyer noted in the majority opinion that the statute under which Whorley was convicted, the PROTECT Act of 2003, clearly states that "it is not a required element of any offense under this section that the minor depicted actually exists."
Appeals to continue

Rob Wagner, the federal public defender who represented Whorley, said he was "very disappointed" with the ruling and that he would ask the full appeals court to reconsider. If that fails, Wagner said he will petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

A Virginia jury convicted Whorley of 74 counts including receiving obscene materials, receiving obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children, receiving child pornography and sending and receiving obscene e-mails describing the sexual abuse of children.

Whorley, 55, is serving his sentence at the Gilmer Federal Correction Institution in Glenville, W.Va.

He previously was sentenced to 46 months in prison for a 1999 child pornography conviction.

From October

Max Hardcore Sentenced to 46 Months in Federal Prison
Mark Kernes

TAMPA - Director Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore, was sentenced today to 46 months in a minimum security prison on federal charges of distributing obscene videos through the mail and the Internet.

Little was fined $7,500 and his company Max World Entertainment was fined $75,000. The director was charged with 10 counts in all, plus another 10 counts for his company.

U.S. District Judge Susan G. Bucklew gave Little the minimum fines allowable by law. The recommended range for the fines was between $1.2 and $2.4 million.

Judge Bucklew also ordered Little to serve three years probation upon his release from prison, placed the company on five years probation and imposed a total of $5,000 in “special assessments.”

Attorney Jeffrey Douglas confirmed to AVN that he plans to appeal the sentence in the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The notice of appeal will be filed within the next 10 days.

Little has been advised to make no statements to the press. He is free pending his appeal.

Verified Torrents?


Fairpoint Pledges To Violate Net Neutrality

Fairpoint Communications, which has taken over Verizon's landline business in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, has announced that on February 6 "AOL, Yahoo! and MSN subscribers will continue to have access to content but will no longer be able to access their e-mail through the third-party Web site. Instead, Yahoo! and other third-party e-mail will be accessed directly at the MyFairPoint.net portal." Since Verizon spun off its lines to Fairpoint in a maneuver that got debt off of Verizon's balance sheets by saddling Fairpoint with it, there was concern by the public service boards of the three states about how Fairpoint would deal with that debt. Fairpoint's profit plan: force all Webmail users through Fairpoint's portal, by blocking all direct access to Webmail portals other than its own. Will Fairpoint's own search engine portal be next? What can stop them?

An NPR Reporter Becomes the News
Stephanie Clifford

In September, Ketzel Levine, a senior correspondent for National Public Radio, came up with an idea for a series about how Americans were handling economic pressure. Called “American Moxie: How We Get By,” it began in early December. The subjects were people like an Illinois farmer who loved tending to his cows, but was having to sell them. “My idea was to look at how we adjust, how we change, what we have to dig deep and find in order to do what it takes to get by, and that’s where moxie came in,” Ms. Levine said.

Ms. Levine and her editor didn’t want a series of unconnected stories. “We came up with the idea that each person should be connected with the next somehow, and that was the best part for me,” she said. “I’d go on a story and have absolutely no idea what the next story would be — I’d have to find it while I was there.”

But there was an unexpected ending. Midway through her reporting, Ms. Levine found out that she had been laid off as part of a 64-employee cut at NPR.

Ms. Levine, who has worked at NPR since 1977, said she decided the final episode, and her final piece for NPR, should be about her own situation.

Ellen McDonnell, the director of morning programming, was not immediately sold on the idea. “I had some natural hesitation,” she said. “As a reporter, you never want the story to be about you.” At the same time, she said: “I also recognized a very unique opportunity for Ketzel to tell a story that lots of people can relate to. She found out in a very personal way what it’s like to have to start over again and to have that moxie she spoke about.”

The end result “was kind of eerie,” Ms. McDonnell said. “The whole concept that one person in the story would lead to another, and then it would all end with her, was not something any of us anticipated.”

In the short piece, which first ran last week just after a “Moxie” story about a Chicago landscaper, Ms. Levine took a personal approach. “It’s only today that I’m sane enough to tell you” about her having been laid off, she told listeners.

Ms. Levine, who lives in Portland, Ore., said she had no idea what she would do next. “Every story that we all do, we’re always looking for the perfect ending,” she said. “And suddenly it was handed to me. It was not one of my choosing, but as a storyteller, what could make a better story?”

The Tubes Are Clogged
Jason Kincaid

Dec. 28 - If you’ve been having trouble accessing some of the web’s most popular sites this morning, you aren’t alone - reports have been pouring in that major sites like Amazon, CNN, and ESPN have been having sporadic outages in some areas across the United States. The problem seems to be stemming from an issue with Level 3 Communications, which operates one of the largest internet backbones in the world.

According to InternetPulse, the provider has been showing severe latency times, and a number of other sites have confirmed that Level3 is the source of the issue.

Some of the affected sites are beginning to write blog posts explaining their outages to users (here are posts from SliceHost and Posterous). It looks like some of the issues are being resolved, but some sites are still having problems.

We should also note that AT&T customers have been reporting widespread outages in some regions. We’re trying to find out if the two outages are related.

Update, 11:45 AM PST: Level3 technical support technician Eunice Morales says that all of the issues have been resolved, and that the problems originated from Washington, DC, Chicago, Spain, and Germany. She also says that the problems with AT&T could possibly be related to the Level3 issues.

With a Digital Stereo, Cisco Systems Is Starting a Push Into Home Electronics
Saul Hansell

Your plumber would like to take you dancing.

Cisco Systems, the dominant provider of the digital pipes that run the Internet, is making a big play in digital entertainment. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January in Las Vegas, it plans to introduce a new line of products, including a digital stereo system that is meant to move music wirelessly around a house.

That is the first small move in a long-term strategy to take on Apple, Sony and the other giants of consumer electronics. Cisco is working on other gadgets that will let people watch Internet video on their televisions more easily. And its biggest bet is that people will want to use a version of its corporate videoconferencing system called Telepresence to chat with their friends over their high-definition televisions.

The company has been talking about reaching out to consumers for years. At the same show two years ago, John T. Chambers, the company’s chief executive, laid out a strategy for building networks for entertainment in the home. At the show last year, it promised new technology that would help media companies publish more video that could be watched on these home networks. But after delays, changes in plans and the assignment of a new executive to oversee all this, Cisco now says the first of its products will hit the shelves, and the video sites will be on the Web, in January.

While Cisco is a newcomer to the consumer electronics business, the company says that after years of promises by the industry, consumer electronics is only now taking advantage of broadband Internet connections and home networks.

“This holiday the vast majority of consumer electronics purchases will be connected,” said Ned Hooper, a Cisco senior vice president, in an interview before Christmas. Mr. Hooper was put in charge of the consumer electronics push a year ago. Many music players, digital cameras, game consoles, Blu-ray players and a variety of set-top boxes connect to the Internet directly or by way of a computer.

Although they are digital, most of the high-definition televisions sold so far do not have Internet connections. But Mr. Hooper argues that televisions soon will also be connected to home networks and the Internet.

“We are all making this investment in high-definition television, but all we are doing with them is watching TV the same way,” Mr. Hooper said. “They can actually provide all sorts of experiences, whether it is viewing family photos or connecting to the Internet to watch video.”

Cisco can draw on much of its existing business line to help build its home electronics products. It is the leading maker of routers and switches, the devices that act as the traffic lights of the Internet in connecting one computer to another. In 2005, it bought Scientific Atlanta, one of the leading makers of equipment for cable TV systems. And Linksys, which it bought in 2003, is the top seller of devices used to set up wireless and wired networks in homes and small businesses.

Sales directly to consumers represented only 2 percent of Cisco’s $40 billion in sales in its most recent fiscal year. But the company is counting on home entertainment, along with Scientific Atlanta and some other new initiatives the company calls “advanced technology,” to provide much of its growth.

Despite Cisco’s dominance of the corporate market and its $27 billion in cash, it faces a number of challenges as it tries to find a place in the home. The Cisco brand is not associated with consumer electronics. The company runs fast-paced commercials with the slogan, “Welcome to the human network,” but it is not particularly clear what Cisco is offering to consumers.

“I don’t think that when they hear the name Cisco they think of great products in consumer electronics,” said John MacFarlane, the chief executive of Sonos, which already makes systems that send music around the house wirelessly.

With the exception of Apple, other computer companies have not had much success in consumer electronics. Dell and Gateway have been in and out of the television and music player business. Hewlett-Packard is still trying to sell computers, servers and set-top boxes designed to move video around the home, but it, too, has dropped out of the television business. Intel, the computer chip maker, abandoned its Viiv brand of processors for media center computers after consumers gave the cold shoulder to the devices, which had been promoted as the key to moving content around their houses.

Mr. Hooper says Cisco has no interest in selling televisions. It will continue to make set-top boxes that bring in programs from cable and the Internet, but it assumes that eventually all televisions will simply connect directly to home networks.

Consumers, however, have not been all that interested in set-top boxes, despite many offerings from companies including TiVo, Vudu and Roku. The most successful has been the Apple TV, which can be used to watch downloaded movies and television programs, but it is still what Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, called a “hobby” rather than a business like the iPod or the iPhone.

It is not so clear to consumers why they would need to get online video on their TVs when they have hundreds of channels and increasingly thousands of video-on-demand choices from their cable systems. “Consumers are reluctant to pay for another service and find a home for another box in their living rooms to duplicate much of the content they already get from cable,” said Ross Rubin, a consumer electronics analyst with the NPD Group.

While Cisco is building out its line of consumer electronics products to sell directly to consumers, it has other ways to profit from the growth of home networks. Its Scientific Atlanta unit sells set-top boxes through pay-TV companies, such as a video recorder offered as part of AT&T’s Uverse television service. It is splitting ad revenue with the media companies for which it runs Web sites. And it wants to develop technology with which Internet providers and media companies can sell new Internet-based services for a monthly fee. One example would let people store music and video on the Internet, rather than on discs or their own hard drives, so they could get access to it anywhere.

“Today your content is very tightly tied to a device,” Mr. Hooper said. “Your music is tied to your iPod. Your games are tied to your PlayStation.” Cisco is pressing media companies to change their business models to sell more flexible digital rights to their content. “If I forgot to sync my iPod before I left home, I can connect in my hotel room,” said Mr. Hooper.

Ultimately, Mr. Hooper said, the company expects to make the most money by offering home video conferencing. Today, Cisco is making a major effort to sell Telepresence rooms to corporations for $40,000 to $300,000 each. These have big high definition TV and a fancy audio system on each end, connected by a high-speed Internet connection, meant to simulate face-to-face meetings.

Cisco envisions bringing a cheaper version to consumers in the next year or two. Consumers would place a small camera next to a television to chat with friends and relatives from their family room couches. Cisco is trying to develop standards that would make placing a video call as easy as dialing a phone number and that would allow the recipients to see notices of incoming calls on their televisions.

Mr. Hooper said this technology would be so much better than the current Webcam-on-a-PC video chat systems that users would be willing to pay their cable companies a monthly fee for it. “Once you can go to full HD quality, with simple setup and high-quality experience, it tips the balance,” Mr. Hooper said.

For Cisco, however, the biggest profit still may not be in the gadgets, but in the plumbing. Video is by far the biggest user of bandwidth and as more people use the Web to watch programs, networks will be forced to buy more routers, switches and equipment.

Star-Filled Releases Draw Well at Box Office
Michael Cieply

An unusual alignment of top stars brightened Hollywood’s holiday box office as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler, as well as Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson and a dog, pushed new movies to strong openings.

“Marley & Me,” a comedy from 20th Century Fox, claimed the top spot with about $37 million for the weekend and $51.7 million since opening on Christmas Day.

Directed by David Frankel, the film stars Ms. Aniston and Mr. Wilson. But Fox marketers appear to have assured its triumph weeks ago with an advertising campaign that zeroed in on an image of a tail-wagging puppy, which turned out to be a perfect match for a holiday dimmed by consistently bad economic news.

Another comedy, “Bedtime Stories,” with Adam Sandler, was second with an estimated $28.1 million for the three-day weekend, though its four-day total of $38.6 million placed it slightly behind “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” with Brad Pitt, in total domestic ticket sales since both movies opened on Christmas Day. Directed by Adam Shankman and released by Walt Disney Studios, “Bedtime Stories,” with a PG rating and strong family appeal, was long expected to be one of the holiday’s strongest performers.

“Benjamin Button,” with its unusual story line about a man who ages backward and an extended running time of about 2 hours 40 minutes, had been a tougher call. But that film, released by Paramount Pictures and directed by David Fincher, also did well, with $27 million in ticket sales for the weekend and about $39 million since Christmas.

Still, the weekend’s most significant victory may have been scored by Tom Cruise, the director Bryan Singer and the distributor MGM with their “Valkyrie,” which for the last year has been chewed over as one of the most difficult bets in the movie marketplace.

The film, in which Mr. Cruise plays a German officer who tried to kill Hitler, placed fourth for the holiday with $21.5 million in sales for the three days and about $30 million since opening on Christmas.

“We’re really happy here,” said Erik Lomis, who oversees worldwide film distribution for MGM. Mr. Lomis said the film, currently playing in about 2,700 theaters, will probably add locations this week as it capitalizes on strength in midsize markets where Mr. Cruise’s star power is helping it keep pace with films for which prospects seemed brighter.

As the long holiday plays out, high-profile movies can expect to collect total domestic tickets sales of four to six times their first three-day weekend, Mr. Lomis noted. Performance on that order means that each of the top openers — and some of the previous week’s new films, including “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey and “Seven Pounds” with Will Smith — will ultimately have a solid if not spectacular record at the box office.

“Yes Man,” from Warner, placed fifth this week, with $16.5 million in weekend sales for a total of $49.6 million since opening. “Seven Pounds,” from Sony Pictures Entertainment, was sixth, with $13.4 million for the weekend and a total of $39 million.

Other films ranking among the 10 best performers were “The Tale of Despereaux,” from Universal Pictures, at No. 7 with $9.4 million for the three-day period and $27.9 million in all; “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” from Fox, at No. 8 with $7.9 million for the weekend and $63.6 million since opening; “The Spirit,” from Lionsgate, at No. 9 with $6.5 million for the weekend and $10.4 million since opening on Christmas; and “Doubt,” from Miramax, at No. 10 with $5.7 million for the weekend and $8.8 million since opening.

Over all the strong performance kept the 2008 box office close to that of last year, with $9.5 billion in total ticket sales so far in 2008 compared to $9.6 billion at this point last year, according to Media by Numbers, a consulting company. Theater attendance is down about 5 percent, Media by Numbers estimated, but ticket price inflation has kept overall revenue high.

Many of the season’s major awards contenders continued to add screens in expanding release patterns meant to capitalize on good reviews and growing expectation of a place at the Academy Awards ceremony in late February.

Among the leaders in the prize race, “Frost/Nixon,” directed by Ron Howard and released by Universal, took in $1.5 million for the three days and $1.9 million since Christmas for a total of $3.7 million to date. The film is playing in just over 200 theaters, in the country’s 50 largest markets.

Another prize contender, “Slumdog Millionaire,” from Fox Searchlight, took in $4.5 million for the weekend for a total of $19.7 million. “Milk,” from Focus Features, had $1.8 million in weekend sales for a total of $13.6 million.

“Twilight,” the teen vampire movie from Summit Entertainment, released in mid-November, continued to play well in the face of new competitors. The film ranked No. 12 for the weekend with $4.5 million in ticket sales and a total of about $167 million.

Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It
David Streitfeld

Book publishers and booksellers are full of foreboding — even more than usual for an industry that’s been anticipating its demise since the advent of television. The holiday season that just ended is likely to have been one of the worst in decades. Publishers have been cutting back and laying off. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt announced that it wouldn’t be acquiring any new manuscripts, a move akin to a butcher shop proclaiming it had stopped ordering fresh meat.

Bookstores, both new and secondhand, are faltering as well. Olsson’s, the leading independent chain in Washington, went bankrupt and shut down in September. Robin’s, which says it is the oldest bookstore in Philadelphia, will close next month. The once-mighty Borders chain is on the rocks. Powell’s, the huge store in Portland, Ore., said sales were so weak it was encouraging its staff to take unpaid sabbaticals.

Don’t blame this carnage on the recession or any of the usual suspects, including increased competition for the reader’s time or diminished attention spans. What’s undermining the book industry is not the absence of casual readers but the changing habits of devoted readers.

In other words, it’s all the fault of people like myself, who increasingly use the Internet both to buy books and later, after their value to us is gone, sell them. This is not about Amazon peddling new books at discounted prices, which has been a factor in the book business for a decade, but about the rise of a worldwide network of amateurs who sell books from their homes or, if they’re lazy like me, in partnership with an Internet dealer who does all the work for a chunk of the proceeds.

They get their books from friends, yard sales, recycling centers, their own shelves. castoffs (I just bought a book from a guy whose online handle was Clif Is Emptying His Closet). Some list them for as little as a penny, although most aim for at least a buck. This growing market is achieving an aggregate mass that is starting to prove problematic for publishers, new bookstores and secondhand bookstores.

For readers and collectors, these resellers, as they are called, offer a great service. Lost in the hand-wringing over the state of the book industry is the fact that this is a golden age for those in love with old-fashioned printed volumes: more books are available for less effort and less money than ever before. A book search engine like ViaLibri.net can knit together 20,000 booksellers around the world offering tens of millions of nearly new, used or rare books.

One consequence has been to change the calculations involved in buying a book. Given the price, do I really want to read this? Now it’s become both an economic and a moral issue? How much do I want to pay, and where do I want that money to go? To my local community via a bookstore? To the publisher? To the author?

In theory, I want to support all of these fine folks. In practice, I decide to save a buck.

Here’s one example of how I casually wreak destruction. I was reading “Sylvia,” an account by the late short-story master Leonard Michaels of his unstable first wife. Looking for material about Mr. Michaels, I saw his friend Wendy Lesser had written a long essay about him in a book published last year by Pantheon. I could buy a new paperback edition of that book, “Room for Doubt,” for $13.95 plus tax in a bookstore. But there were dozens of copies from resellers available online for as little as one cent, plus shipping.

A penny felt a little chintzy, even for me, so I bought a hardcover copy for 25 cents from someone who called herself Heather Blue, plus a few bucks for shipping. Neither my local bookstore nor Pantheon — whose parent, Random House, announced this month it would cut costs by reducing five divisions to three — nor the author got a share. The book looked good as new.

Ms. Lesser is the publisher of The Threepenny Review, a literary journal. She lives in Berkeley, Calif., where, as it happens, there is no longer a large general interest bookstore. Cody’s, in its prime one of the country’s great stores, closed its last outlet in June. The Barnes & Noble store there also recently closed.

Andy Ross, the former owner of Cody’s, told me that buying books online “was not morally dubious, but it is tragic. It has a lot of unintended consequences for communities.”

Mr. Ross said he realized that Cody’s was doomed when he noticed that in the last year he hadn’t sold a single copy of that old-reliable for undergraduates, Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” Students presumably were buying it online. Sales of classics and other backlist titles used to be the financial engine of publishers and bookstores as well, allowing them to take chances on new authors. Clearly that model is breaking. Simon & Schuster, which laid off staffers this month, cited backlist sales as a particularly troubled area.

Michael Barnard, who owns Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif., not far from Berkeley, was more critical of me. He said that I was taking Ms. Lesser’s work while depriving her of an income, and that I would regret my selfish actions when all the physical stores were gone.

Ms. Lesser’s editor, Dan Frank, said that the rise of resellers like Heather Blue meant that there was no longer a set price for a book at any one time. If you want it during those first few weeks when it is new, you will pay a premium. If you can wait, it might be only a pittance. “These cracks and fractures will only grow bigger,” he said.

Ms. Lesser herself was philosophical. “I am a pragmatist, not a thin-skinned, delicate little writer who thinks everything needs to be what it is in heaven,” she said. Still, she sounded a little taken aback at the going rate for her books. “Twenty-five cents? That’s all it was?”

At least this way, the writer said, she gained a reader if not an income. If I had had to search for the book in a store, maybe I would never have found it.

“With the Internet, nothing is ever lost,” Ms. Lesser said. “That’s the good news, and that’s the bad news.”

And what of the woman who sold me the book? She told me via e-mail that her real name was Heather Mash and that she worked as a domestic violence case manager in a women’s shelter not too far from Berkeley. She didn’t set out to subvert the publishing and bookselling world, she said. Like most of us who sell online, Ms. Mash began because she had too many books and wanted to raise money to buy more. “I would rather sell a book for a penny and let someone enjoy it than keep it collecting dust,” she said.

No industry undermined by its greatest partisans will thrive long. CD sales plunged after music could be downloaded. Newspapers are hurting even as their readership is mushrooming online. As the Heather Mashes proliferate, traditional bookstores will continue to fade.

Secondhand outlets that don’t sell online are already an anachronism. Even the novelist Larry McMurtry, whose enormous secondhand shop in Archer City, Tex., was probably the biggest holdout against the Internet, has surrendered.

The first book he sold online was a signed copy of “84, Charing Cross Road,” the classic account of a woman in postwar New York who bought her books from a London shop she never saw. Helene Hanff’s slim volume used to be cherished for its depiction of a vanished era. Now it seems simply ahead of its time.

Publisher Cancels Disputed Holocaust Love Story

A publisher has canceled a Holocaust memoir with an amazing love story publicized by Oprah Winfrey after the writer admitted he made up parts, adding the book to a growing list of fabricated memoirs.

Berkley Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group, said it was canceling "Angel at the Fence, The True Story of a Love that Survived" after writer Herman Rosenblat admitted to his agent Andrea Hurst that he had invented part of the book.

Rosenblat, 79, appeared twice on Oprah's TV show to tell a story about meeting his wife when she threw apples to him over a fence at a Nazi concentration camp in Germany but it transpired he made up the story for a newspaper contest about a decade ago.

"Berkley will demand that the author and the agent return all money that they have received for this work," said Berkley Books spokesman Craig Burke in a statement.

Rosenblat's agent Andrea Hurst said in a statement that the writer had revealed to her that he invented the crux of the love story in which he claimed he met his wife when he was a teenage prisoner in a camp at Schlieben, Germany, and she threw him food.

He wrote that after the war he moved to New York and by chance met Polish immigrant Roma Radzicki who turned out to be the girl who threw him food. They fell in love and got married.

Hurst said Rosenblat's story about being in the concentration camps and the survival of the writer and his brothers was true but the retired electrical contractor from North Miami Beach, Florida, had made up the love story that had won such attention.

Sad Ending to a Love Story

"Like millions of others who read this story or saw Herman and Roma on Oprah, I never for a moment questioned the authenticity of the widely circulated story," said Hurst.

"I know that everyone who has worked so hard with Herman this past year is as stunned and disappointed as I am that this story of hope has such a sad ending."

Polish-born Rosenblat could not be contacted for comment.

The memoir, due to be published in February, came under public scrutiny after several scholars in The New Republic challenged the book, saying Rosenblat's description of the camp was inaccurate and throwing food over the fence impossible.

Harris Salomon, president of Atlantic Overseas Pictures is pushing ahead with plans to make a $25 million movie about Herman Rosenblat with filming to start in Hungary in March.

"There are some thing in life you don't question, like a Holocaust survivor. I believed it," said Salomon who had spoken to Rosenblat since the book was canceled.

"He claimed he did it because he thought it would help him tell the story about the Holocaust. It was something that helped young people understand. It was the right message but a bad messenger. But the core of this story is really wonderful."

Salomon said the movie would portray the full story.

"In essence there will be two stories -- the fantasy of what he created in his mind intercut with the real life Herman Rosenblat, a man who made it up," said Salomon. "I will portray him as someone who did something very wrong."

Historian Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, Atlanta, wrote on her blog that the book had upset some other Holocaust survivors and could also give fodder to Holocaust deniers.

The book is the latest in a list of memoirs in which the author has been accused of fabrication and could put greater pressure on publishers to fact check books more carefully.

In 2006, U.S. author James Frey admitted he had fabricated key parts of his drug and alcohol memoir "A Million Little Pieces," the top selling non-fiction book in the United States in 2005.

In February, Misha Defonseca admitted most of her bestselling autobiography, which told of a young Jewish girl saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Europe, was made up.

"Love and Consequences," a memoir by a Margaret B. Jones about a mixed-raced girl growing up in a gang-ridden neighborhood of Los Angeles, was revealed to be a fabrication and distributed copies of the book recalled this year.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

TV Retains Marketing Dollars in Hard Times
John Consoli

WHILE newspapers, magazines, radio and local television are all losing advertisers in the recessionary economy, the broadcast networks continue to be an anomaly, with advertisers putting their marketing dollars into national television at levels reminiscent of prosperous economic times.

“The shoe hasn’t dropped yet,” said Kris Magel, senior vice president and director for national broadcast at Initiative, a media buying agency. The troubled economy “hasn’t hit national television yet,” he said.

It’s not because the four major broadcast networks are delivering more prime-time viewers to advertisers than they did last season; they are not. Cumulatively, they are down 10 percent in actual live viewers, with ABC, NBC and Fox all drawing around a million viewers less each night than they did last season. CBS is the one network that has improved from last season; the network is up 1 percent in viewership.

Among the 18-to-49-year-old audience sought by advertisers, there are also declines. Both ABC and Fox are down 14 percent, while NBC is down 9 percent and CBS is down 3 percent.

So why are advertisers still putting their money into broadcast television? Network sales presidents and executives at various media agencies, who do the ad buying for the major advertisers, said that despite the continued fragmentation of national television viewing, the power of the broadcast networks to reach mass audiences on a nightly basis continued to give them an edge over other media.

“When the economy goes into a recession, marketers are looking at ad platforms that generate the most efficiency, and that is national television,” said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for the media agency conglomerate Group M, where he oversees broadcast TV ad spending of close to $3 billion for media agencies Mindshare, Mediaedge;cia and MediaCom. ”When ad budgets are strapped, advertisers turn to the tried and true, and national TV has proven that it works in helping them move product in good and bad economic times.”

Mr. Magel of Initiative said, ”Broadcast television may be losing ratings, but there is no other medium that has been able to supplant it in a big enough way to negatively impact it at this point.”

Still, as a result of the ratings declines, the broadcast networks have had to give advertisers make-goods — free ads — to make up for failing to deliver the ratings they guaranteed when they sold their ad time to advertisers last May in what is known as the upfront buying period.

The upfront process, unique to the broadcast and cable networks, is another reason advertisers have remained loyal to the TV networks during economic downturns. In the upfront period, advertisers commit a certain amount of advertising dollars to each network for the coming season. And in exchange for those commitments, the networks offer ratings guarantees; if they are not met, the networks must make good on those shortfalls by giving advertisers free ad time.

With three of the four major broadcast networks showing significant ratings declines since the start of the TV season in late September, they have been doling out make-goods, particularly in the month of December. That means they are giving back ad time that they cannot sell in what as known as the scatter ad market. Only CBS is doing well enough in prime time that it has not yet had to give out make-goods, so it has been able to sell more of its remaining ad inventory.

”We have zero make-goods,” said Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of the CBS Corporation, of his broadcast network’s prime-time performance. “Demand is not what we would like it to be. And scatter pricing is basically flat with what the upfront pricing was.” Last year at this time, it was as much as 40 percent higher.

But Mr. Moonves said that not having had to give make-goods so far this season has put CBS in a better position than the other networks to sell more ad inventory now and in 2009, if advertisers remain interested.

While they are short of available inventory to sell because of make-goods, both ABC and Fox said that heading into the first quarter of 2009, each would be scheduling programming that would raise their ratings and enable them to sell more advertising in the scatter market.

Fox will have its annual ratings juggernaut “American Idol,” while ABC has five new scripted prime-time shows it will introduce between January and March.

“We’re maintaining our business and have not been faced with any type of major cancellations,” said Jon Nesvig, sales president for Fox Broadcasting. ”First-quarter upfront retention was over 95 percent, and we’re selling scatter for first quarter at upfront pricing or slightly better. We have not renegotiated any deals. Everybody has many concerns going forward, but we’re hoping for the best.”

Production on new shows for this season was limited because of the writer’s strike last fall, and as a result, ABC had only one new show in the fall. Because of that, Mike Shaw, president of sales at ABC, said he expected that ratings would be challenged, and that ABC tried to reflect that situation in how it sold in the upfront.

“Right now our scatter pricing is better than what we sold in the upfront, in all day parts,” Mr. Shaw said. ”Cancellations by advertisers are at normal levels. And with most of our new programming not coming till the first quarter, our report card really can’t be written until March.”

NBC, which has no new shows that have made any sort of impact with advertisers, said it was still keeping its head above water.

“As expected in this climate, we’re compensating our advertisers with make-goods,” said Mike Pilot, president of sales and marketing at NBC Universal. ”At the same time we’re still doing business, although at a slower pace. Our clients continue to recognize the value of broadcast television, they’re just spending their money closer to air dates.”

Mr. Magel of Initiative said, “Broadcast television may be losing ratings, but there is no other medium that has been able to supplant it in a big enough way to negatively impact it at this point.”

Most media buyers, who did not want to make any predictions for attribution, said that the broadcast networks might make it through this season, which ends in late May, without any major advertiser defections. The impact of the economy on the broadcast networks could be felt in this May’s upfront buying period, when advertisers buy for the 2009-10 TV season, but for now the relationship between national advertisers and the broadcast networks is like any traditional TV season.

“We’re all waiting for the broadcast TV marketplace to slow down,” said Mr. Magel. “We all believe at some point it will. But right now the money keeps flowing — it’s perplexing, but it’s reality.”

As Internet Use Grows at Meetings, So Do Challenges
Martha C. White

Until recently, travelers attending conferences or trade shows had simple Internet needs. They would check e-mail messages and maybe look up information on the Web or connect to the home office.

Now, meetings are likely to include streaming video and online interaction. And back in their rooms, travelers are downloading movies and logging onto peer-to-peer networks.

Event organizers and hotels and conference centers are struggling to keep up and prevent Internet gridlock. “We’ve known for a long time that bandwidth was going to be an issue in hotels,” said Don O’Neal, a hotel technology consultant.

Erika Powell, a meeting planner for Global Knowledge, a company that provides software training to corporate clients, said she was recently forced to move an event because the hotel’s Internet connection could not keep up with her group’s demands.

“On Monday, we started getting reports that the Internet was very slow and they weren’t able to access the labs,” she said. “We communicated with the facility to find out what the problem was, but they were at a loss.” Ms. Powell said she had to pull up stakes and relocate her students to another nearby hotel in the middle of the week so their training could be completed without slowdowns.

As recently as a few years ago, a type of connection called a T1 line was the norm for most hotels. With speeds of 1.5 megabits a second, it was robust enough for e-mail and Web browsing. (By comparison, an average at-home cable modem offers three to five megabits a second.)

The advent of cheap, user-friendly — but bandwidth-heavy — streaming video technology changed the status quo drastically. Demand at hotels and convention centers has spiked, as businesses add videoconferencing to their meetings and guests download media. Adding to the logjam, hotel managers are moving toward Web-based tools for managing back-of-the-house departments, using more bandwidth, too.

Most business hotels now have added more T1s or a T3 (also referred to as a DS3), which accommodates 28 T1s of traffic. Other hotels are installing fiber optics, which also offer large bandwidth capacity. Many of these new systems are what technology specialists term burstable, meaning they have a typical six or eight megabit-a-second rate of transmission but are capable of sustaining many times that amount of traffic if necessary.

At the new Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel, technology administrators merged the hotel’s various data networks into a single supernetwork. This consolidation means groups with high bandwidth requirements can tap unused guest room or administrative capacity without having to switch networks and have their service interrupted, said Page Petry, senior vice president for information resources, North American Lodging Field Services for Marriott International, Renaissance’s parent company.

For Maura Sutherland, this bandwidth access was a major selling point. As a senior manager of corporate marketing for Akamai Technologies, she recently brought 300 customers from around the world to the Renaissance. She said the hotel was able to partition off bandwidth for her group’s exclusive use, which included high-definition video streaming.

“We were using 60 megs at any given time because we had over 20 partners demonstrating their technology,” Ms. Sutherland said. “The purpose of having these meetings is really to showcase what our customers are doing online.” Technology, she said, can be a deal breaker when she chooses a site for a conference.

In keeping customers like Ms. Sutherland happy, it is not enough for hotels to consider how much bandwidth they have. They also have to deal with whether they can ration it. A growing number of hotels have invested in software that allows them to assign bandwidth to various parts of the hotel.

“We have 175 meeting destination properties and upwards of 90 percent of those are capable of dedicating bandwidth,” said Brennan Gildersleeve, senior director of guest and in-room technology for Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “Three years ago, I would say it would have been around 50 percent. So the trend is very clear.”

Nick Price, chief information officer and chief technology officer for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, said that bandwidth has been doubling year over year. “Bandwidth consumption by meeting groups in North America is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world.”

The demand at convention centers has escalated as well. “Our customers are expecting an in-home experience when they travel,” said John Adams, general manager of the Colorado Convention Center in Denver and a senior vice president for the western region of the convention center management firm SMG. “Technology changes so quickly, and meetings have become increasingly more interactive.”

The annual International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which is held from Jan. 8 to 11, bears this out. Exhibitors at the show used 353 Internet connections in 2008, up from 51 in 1999. With a projected attendance of more than 130,000, thousands of people may be logging onto the network to check their e-mail at any time, for instance, and the demand for video is similarly strong. In addition, many trade show organizers now use Web-based registration systems to process their attendees, which takes more bandwidth.

“The demands of what the exhibitors are using the Internet to do have grown,” said Karen Chupka, senior vice president for events and conferences for the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces the show. “Five or six years ago, it might have been to pull up their Web site. Now, it’s streaming video.”

Ms. Chupka and her team meet with the technology provider at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Expo and Convention Center, the two halls where the show is held, three months beforehand to tally up the demand and anticipate last-minute requests.

Hotels predict a similar growth in demand as streaming technologies become the norm and edge out more static media. “You’re going to see less acceptance of PowerPoint, what someone did as opposed to what someone does live,” said Mr. Price of Mandarin Oriental.

Commentary: The Music Fades When Shilling is the Motive

These days, marketing potential is what drives musical inspiration
Jon Pareles

In "Creator," the rawest track on Santogold's debut and self-titled album, singer Santi White boasts, "Me I'm a creator/Thrill is to make it up/The rules I break got me a place up on the radar." It's a bohemian manifesto in a sound bite, brash and endearing, or at least it was for me until it showed up in a beer commercial. And a hair-gel commercial, too.

It turns out that the insurgent, quirky rule-breaker is just another shill. Billboard reported that three-quarters of Santogold's excellent album already has been licensed for commercials, video games and soundtracks, and White herself appears in advertisements, singing for sneakers. She clearly has decided that linking her music to other, mostly mercenary agendas is her most direct avenue to that "place up on the radar."

I know -- time for me to get over it. After all, this is the reality of the 21st-century music business. Selling recordings to consumers as inexpensive artworks to be appreciated for their own sake is a much-diminished enterprise now that free copies multiply across the Web.

Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else's sales pitch or video game, well, it's a living. Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It's one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn't been ravaged by digital distribution, and there's little resistance from any quarters; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss croon for JCPenney and the avant-rockers Battles are heard accompanying an Australian vodka ad.

The question is: What happens to the music itself when the way to build a career shifts from recording songs that ordinary listeners want to buy to making music that marketers can use? That creates pressure, subtle but genuine, for music to recede: to embrace the element of vacancy that makes a good soundtrack so unobtrusive, to edit a lyric to be less specific or private, to leave blanks for the image or message the music now serves. Perhaps the song will still make that essential, head-turning first impression, but it won't be as memorable or independent.

Music always had accessory roles: a soundtrack, a jingle, a branding statement, a mating call. But for performers with a public profile, as opposed to composers for hire, the point was to draw attention to the music itself. Once they were noticed, stars could provide their own story arcs of career and music, and songs got a chance to create their own spheres, as sanctuary or spook house or utopia. If enough people cared about the song, payoffs would come from record sales (to performer and songwriter) and radio play (to the songwriter).

When Moby licensed every song on his 1999 album, "Play," for ads and soundtracks, the move was both startling and cheesy, but it did lead to CD sales; an album that set staticky samples of blues and gospel to dance-floor beats managed to become a million-seller. Nearly a decade later, platinum albums are much scarcer.

For all but the biggest names -- such as AC/DC, which made Wal-Mart the exclusive vendor for CDs of its long-awaited "Black Ice" album, got its own "store within a store" and sold more than a million copies in two weeks -- a marketing deal is more likely to be its own reward rather than spawn a career. With telling ambivalence, Brooklyn Vegan, the widely read, indie-loving music blog, recently started a column, "This Week in Music Licensing: It's Not Selling Out Anymore," but soon dropped the "selling out" half of the title. There's no longer a clear dividing line for selling out, if there ever was.

And as music becomes a means to an end -- pushing a separate product, whether it's a concert ticket or a clothing line, a movie scene or a Web ad -- a tectonic shift is under way. Record sales channeled the taste of the broad, volatile public into a performer's paycheck. As music sales dwindle, licensers become a far more influential target audience. Unlike non-professional music fans who might immerse themselves in a song or album they love, music licensers want a track that's attractive but not too distracting -- just a tease, not a revelation.

It's almost enough to make someone miss those former villains of philistinism, the recording companies. Labels had an interest in music that would hold listeners on its own terms; selling it was their meal ticket. Labels, and to some extent radio stations and music television, also had a stake in nurturing stars who would keep fans returning to find out what happened next, allowing their catalogs to be perennially rediscovered. By contrast, licensers have no interest beyond the immediate effect of a certain song, and can save money by dealing with unknowns.

As the influence of major labels erodes, licensers are seizing their chance to be talent scouts. They can be good at it, song by song, turning up little gems like Chairlift's "Bruises," heard in an iPod ad. For a band, getting such a break, and being played repeatedly for television viewers, is a windfall, and perhaps an alternate route to radio play or the beginning of a new audience. But how soon will it be before musicians, perhaps unconsciously, start conceiving songs as potential television spots, or energy jolts during video games, or ringtones? Which came first, Madonna's "Hung Up" or the cell-phone ad?

Not wanting to appear too crass, musicians insist that exposure from licensing does build the kind of interest that used to pay off in sales and/or loyalty. Hearing a song on the radio or in a commercial has a psychological component; someone else already has endorsed it. Musicians who don't expect immediate mass-market radio play -- maybe they're too old, maybe they're too eccentric -- have gotten their music on the air by selling it to advertisers. That can rev up careers, as Apple ads have done for Feist and for this year's big beneficiary, Yael Naim, whose "New Soul" introduced the MacBook Air. (Sites like findthatsong.net help listeners identify commercial soundtracks.)

Sri Lankan art-pop-rapper M.I.A. already had all the hipster adoration she could want for her song "Paper Planes," which compares international drug dealing to selling records, and it turns gunshots and a ringing cash register into hooks. But having the song used in the trailer for "Pineapple Express" probably was what propelled the song to a Grammy nomination for record of the year.

(Grammy voters often seize on music from everywhere but the albums they purport to judge; they seem particularly drawn to film soundtracks.) And if the song now conjures images of the movie trailer for many listeners, that's the tradeoff for recognition.

The old, often legitimate accusation against labels was that they sold entire albums with only one good song or two. Now there's an incentive for a song to have only 30 seconds of good stuff. It's already happening: Chris Brown's hit "Forever" is wrapped around a jingle for chewing gum.

Apparently there's no going back, structurally, to paying musicians to record music for its own sake. Labels that used to make profits primarily from selling albums have been struggling since the Internet caused them to lose their chokehold on distribution and exposure. Now, in return for investing in recording and promotion, and for supplying their career-building expertise (such as it was), they want a piece of musicians' whole careers.

Old-fashioned audio recording contracts are increasingly being replaced by so-called 360 deals that also tithe live shows, merchandising, licensing and every other conceivable revenue stream -- conceding, in a way, that the labels' old central role of selling discs for mere listening is obsolescent. Some musicians, like former record company president Jay-Z, have concurred, but by signing 360 deals not with labels but with the concert-promotion monolith Live Nation.

Maybe such dire thoughts are extreme, since some people still are buying music. The iTunes Music Store has sold more than 5 billion songs since 2003. But it's harder and harder to find a song without a tie-in. It took Guns N' Roses 15 years between albums to complete "Chinese Democracy," certainly long enough to receive worldwide notice when the album was released this year. But instead of letting the album arrive as an event in itself, the band licensed one of the album's best songs, "Shackler's Revenge," to a video game that came out first. Metallica fans have complained that the band's new album, "Death Magnetic," sounds better in the version made for the "Guitar Hero" video game than on the consumer CD, which is compressed to the point of distortion so it will sound louder on the radio. But they take for granted that the music will end up in the game in the first place. Consumers reinforce the licensers almost perversely: They pay for music as a ringtone, or tap along with it on the iPhone game "Tap Tap Revenge," but not as a high-fidelity song.

Perhaps it's too 20th century to hope that music could stay exempt from multitasking, or that the constant insinuation of marketing into every moment of consciousness would stop when a song begins. But for the moment I'd suggest individual resistance. Put on a song with no commercial attachments. Turn it up. Close your eyes. And listen.

Capitol Records Flooded Internet With MP3s, Says MP3Tunes CEO

In court papers filed in New York in Capitol Records v. MP3Tunes, the CEO of MP3Tunes, Michael Robertson, has accused the plaintiffs EMI, Capitol Records, and other EMI record labels of flooding the internet with free MP3s of their songs for promotional purposes, "free to everyone (except, apparently, MP3tunes)." His 10-page declaration (PDF) provides exact details of specific song files, including the URLs from which they are being distributed free of charge, both by paid content distributors, and by EMI itself from its own web sites.

U.S. Music Album Sales Tumble Further in 2008
Dean Goodman

U.S. album sales slid for a seventh time in eight years in 2008 as growth in the digital arena, one of the few bright spots in the ailing music industry, slowed, according to data issued on Wednesday.

Total album sales fell 14 percent to 428.4 million units during the 52-week period ended December 28, according to retail data collected by tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan.

This follows a 15 percent drop in 2007, and sets a new low since the firm began monitoring sales in 1991. Sales have plummeted 45 percent from the industry's high-water mark of 785.1 million units in 2000, due largely to Internet piracy and competition from other forms of entertainment such as video games.

This year, the industry also faced an economic recession.

Digital downloads, through online retailers such as Apple Inc's iTunes store, have taken on greater importance to the industry, but the impressive growth of recent years is waning. Digital track sales rose 27 percent to a record 1.07 billion units, but the growth was slower than the 45 percent jump in 2007. Digital album sales rose 32 percent to 65.8 million units, after a 53 percent jump in 2007.

Ringtones are also a major new focus. But purchases of the top 100 mastertone ringers slid 33 percent to 43.8 million units. Only one mastertone broke the 2 million mark -- rapper Lil Wayne's "Lollipop." Last year, three did.

Lil Wayne also took honors for this year's top-selling album, moving 2.9 million copies of "Tha Carter III." Last year's No. 1 album was pop vocalist Josh Groban's "Noel" with 3.7 million copies.

Only three other albums sold more than 2 million copies this year: English rock band Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" and country singer Taylor Swift's "Fearless" each with about 2.1 million, and rocker Kid Rock's 2007 release "Rock'N'Roll Jesus" with 2 million. Last year, eight albums sold more than 2 million copies.

Swift, 19, was the biggest artist of 2008, selling 4 million copies, mostly of "Fearless" and her 2006 self-titled debut. Anglo-Australian rock band AC/DC followed with 3.4 million copies, selling almost as many of their old albums as they did of their first release in more than eight years, "Black Ice," which was No. 5 with 1.9 million copies.

Overall music sales, including albums, singles, music video and digital tracks, rose 10.5 percent to 1.5 billion units, after 14 percent growth in 2007 and a 19 percent jump in 2006.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Back to the Future: Vinyl Record Sales Double in '08, CDs Down

What's old is new again when it comes to audio storage
Lucas Mearian

Audiophiles have long argued that vinyl records offer better sound quality than CDs or MP3s, but their stoic loyalty in the face of change was seen as little more than a nostalgic bias during the 25 years in which digital recordings came to dominate the music industry. In recent years, however, sales of LPs -- that's short for long-playing records, kids -- have more than doubled online and are regaining overall market share, thanks to new converts looking for more than they can find in an MP3 selling for 99 cents online.

In 2008, 1.88 million vinyl albums were purchased, more than in any other year since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking LP sales in 1991. The previous record was in 2000, when 1.5 million LP albums were sold. More than two out of every three vinyl albums bought in 2008 were purchased at an independent music store, according to SoundScan.

Vinyl record sales rose 14% between 2006 and 2007, from 858,000 to 990,000. In contrast, CD sales plummeted over the past three years, from 553.4 million in 2006 to 360.6 million in 2008. MP3 sales grew from 32.6 million to 65.8 million during the same time period, according to SoundScan.

Newbury Comics' store manager Dan Phipps holds a vinyl copy of Beck's Modern Guilt.
Industry observers say vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because new buyers are discovering the value of owning albums, with their cover art, large liner notes and warm sound.

"There's nothing like a vinyl record. It's analog. It sounds as close as you're going to get to the artist. If you're that guy who sits in that optimum space in your living room, you're definitely going to hear the difference," said Steven Sheldon, president of Los Angeles-based Rainbo Records.

"Now, with that said, 99% of the public listens to music as a background off of iPods and everything else," he said. "That's by far the worst sound quality, but it's also the most convenient -- and convenience sells."

Rainbo Records, which has been pressing vinyl LPs since 1955, doubled its production from 2006 to 2007 and more than doubled record output this past year. The company currently presses 25,000 albums a day; that's up from a low of about 6,000 to 8,000 a day in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, when CDs were in their heyday. Since then, there's been a steady increase in vinyl production. Surprisingly, Sheldon doesn't attribute that rise to Gen Xers or even baby boomers, but to 13-to-24-year-olds rediscovering the aesthetic value of record collections.

"They were brought up on virtual everything. Their games were on the computer or on the TV. Their music was in a box," he said. "I think they also do recognize the difference in sound, but I think holding that 12-by-12 piece of art and holding that record in their hand is creating the buzz."

While you might think Sheldon has an ax to grind against modern forms of music recording, he doesn't. His company also produces CDs -- to the tune of 75,000 a day.

Over the past 30 years, the number of companies manufacturing LPs has dwindled, Sheldon said. But production remained relatively steady for those companies that remained in business, kept afloat by the aficionados who swear by vinyl's sound quality.

Josh Bizar, sales director at Chicago-based Music Direct Inc., an online supplier of turntables, needles and record cleaners, said Nielson is likely under-reporting record sales because many online and independent retail shops aren't counted.

Music Direct opened 20 years ago, as the CD market exploded, targeting sophisticated audiophiles, Bizar said. In each of the past five years, it has seen a 200% increase in LP sales and now ships between two million and three million vinyl albums annually.

LPs have made enough of a comeback that online retail sites such as Amazon.com have recently created pages dedicated to the sales of vinyl records.

Doylestown, Pa.-based SoundStage Direct LLC, which operates an online vinyl record store, experienced a 49% increase in sales from 2007 to 2008, selling 55,000 LPs over the past year, according to owner Seth Frank. Frank, 42, said he first worked in a record store at age 10. After college, he said, he took a "suit" job, but hated it. So five years ago, he decided to go back to his first love, selling records.

"Records just sound better. They have that warmth to them -- that analog-warm sound. A record reproduces music, a CD transforms it into zeros and ones," Frank said. "Digital to me is a harsher sound. When I put a CD on, it's the soundtrack of the day. It's background music. When I want to listen to music, I listen to a record."

According to Frank, the music industry is responding vigorously to increased demand for vinyl, and labels representing artists such as Nirvana, Van Morrison, Cream, Guns 'N' Roses and Metallica have all recently put out new releases or re-released classic albums on new vinyl.

"Motley Crue just released all their albums in vinyl, and I can't keep them on the shelves," Frank said. "Some artists who want to promote vinyl are also putting their extra tracks on them instead of CDs."

Duncan Browne, chief operating officer at Brighton, Mass.-based Newbury Comics, a brick-and-mortar retail chain with 28 stores in five states, said his company has expanded shelf space for vinyl records over the past year in order to accommodate a more than 35% increase to date in vinyl sales to "younger people".

"I think it's a novelty thing, by and large. I think it's a faddish thing," he said. "It seems like something cool. It's a differentiator and it also gets into the DJ culture."

Browne said he doesn't expect the uptick in record sales to continue, but it will leave behind a new, younger audience of audiophiles, similar to the stalwarts who never gave up on the medium during the rise of CDs and MP3s.

Dan Phipps, manager of the Newbury Comics store in Natick, Mass., said most of his customers who buy vinyl are teenagers dissatisfied with purchasing music online. They want the artwork that comes with an album cover as well as large liner notes and other extras.

He said the biggest genres of music he sells are classic rock, pop or new hip-hop albums.

It's not just the vinyl that's selling. Phipps pointed to a large stack of boxes containing turntables that have been upgraded with USB ports that can be used to transfer LP music to digital media. Today's turntables are a pricier, however, than they used to be. A Thoren's turntable can run as much as $6,200. And some models from Clearaudio run as high as $150,000. But take heart, a simple Sony, Panasonic or Stanton turntable can still go for a little more than $100.

According to Music Direct's Bizar, a decent player should now cost about $350. For that, you'll have a turntable for life, he said.

Audiophiles who haven't listened to an LP lately will likely find that the quality of sound on today's albums surpasses that of the old-school vinyl of the 20th century, according to Bizar and others.

In the 1980s, companies pressed vinyl into records weighing 120 grams. Today, records are thicker, weighing in at 180 grams -- and they're recorded with more-sophisticated electronic equipment, Bizar said.

"Look. It would take me two minutes to play you a CD on a $3,000 CD player and then play the same music using vinyl on $500 turntable, and you will choose the vinyl every time," he said. "I'm not an audiophile, but 100% of time, I choose vinyl."

RIAA Graduated Response Plan: Q&A with Cary Sherman
Nate Anderson

On Friday, major news broke: the RIAA would (largely) abandon its widespread lawsuit campaign against individuals in favor of a "graduated response" partnership with ISPs. The outlines are clear enough—the RIAA will identify infringers, pass that information on to ISPs, who will notify (and eventually sanction) users without turning personal information over to the music industry.

But details, in some cases hugely important details, remained unclear. Chief among these was the lack of any talk about an oversight or appeals process for users who want to contest the RIAA's claims in some way. We checked in with EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann, one of the leading non-industry voices on these issues; he suggested five potential "gotchas" that need to be scrutinized as the plan goes forward:

• What's the mechanism for "appealing" a false allegation? How will subscribers be notified (i.e., what if your "third notice" ends up caught in your spam folder, or your teenager intercepts the letters)? Will parents be held responsible for what their children are doing? Will neighbors be held responsible if they run open WiFi?
• Does this mean ISPs now have an obligation to engage in enough data retention to reconstruct the activities of subscribers? If so, this will create a cache of data that will imperil our privacy in other ways, as the government and private litigants start demanding access to it.
• What happens after the "third strike"? Will there be an "Internet blacklist" of persons that ISPs cannot service? What about those who have only one residential broadband provider in their area? The increasing provision of government services online (taxes, FEMA insurance, etc.) makes the threat of being taken offline a very serious matter.
• What does "throttling" mean in this context? Will it mean banning particular protocols (like BitTorrent or gnutella), banning particular ports, or pervasive deep packet inspection? Will subscribers get a discount if their "7Mb" Internet service becomes "256k" Internet service?
• Will this require ISPs to affirmatively monitor for infringement ("filtering"), or will they only respond to RIAA complaints?

To get more details about the program, Ars turned to Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA; you can read the complete transcript of our talk below. Sherman's answer to the first question is, in essence, "it's all being worked out," but he's fully aware that an appeals process of some kind must be in place before the program goes live.

When it comes to question four, Sherman noted after our interview wrapped up that the RIAA had no idea who had suggested "throttling" as a possible sanction against users. While it did appear in the initial Wall Street Journal article, the RIAA is not advocating bandwidth throttling as a possible sanction at this time, and Sherman isn't sure of anyone who is.

As for question five, potential infringers will be identified using the same basic process that the RIAA has used to identify file-swappers for its court cases and settlement letters; ISPs appear not to be involved in the identification process, only in the resulting notification and sanction process.

For the other questions, definite answers are harder to come by. Much of the agreement is still being hashed out, including practical implementation details that may be pesky, but are crucial.

Despite the RIAA's unwillingness to identify the ISPs that are currently involved in the program, Ars has confirmed that Verizon is not participating at the moment. Requests for comment to AT&T and Comcast were not returned.

Interview with Cary Sherman

Did New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office prompt this new approach, or has RIAA been working on graduated response for some time?

The latter.

How long has the RIAA been pursuing graduated response in the US?

Well, this is an idea that has been circulating not just within the United States but all around the world for a long time. I think it's fair to say that we've been actively engaged in discussions for about a year, but those discussions have picked up their pace since the spring and summer.

Was there any consultation with European labels, ISPs, and governments about setting this up and learning form their approach?

We have been following developments there to get an understanding of the issues and the positions and concerns of the respective parties so that we can anticipate what issues might arise, but we haven't specifically consulted with governments. We have gotten briefings from the record industry negotiators in the UK and France, for example, just to get status reports and ask them questions and learn what the concerns were and how they were addressing them. It was useful background.

When will the system actually be in place and start working? Has that been determined yet?

It has not.

Can you say anything about what ISPs are involved?


Are colleges and universities involved?

Colleges and universities have really been engaged in their own form of graduated response for many years. If you take a look at what universities have been doing, they have escalating sanctions for people who have been identified as repeat infringers. Something as simple as, for example, at Stanford, where they charge a $100 reconnection fee for somebody who fails to respond to a first notice. Then a second offense is $500 and a third [time] offender has network privileges terminated and to regain access, they have to pay a $1,000 fee. That's a very clear graduated response system.

Others will just give a warning the first time, and the second time they might do a temporary disconnect for 24 hours, and a third time they might refer you to the judicial affairs system. Every school has its own variation, but they've really been implementing informal graduated response.

Can you explain a bit more about how the identification and notification will work? Is this essentially the system you used for the lawsuit campaign, only now directed at slightly different ends?

Yeah, the technology for identifying infringement is essentially the same. I think it's fair to say that all the parties would want comfort that the technology is accurate and reliable, because nobody is interested in false positives. And we'll also need a mechanism so that somebody who claims that he or she was improperly identified would have an opportunity to be heard and have the question resolved. All of those things need to be worked out.

We're comforted by the fact that the technology that we used was actually examined by a group of engineers at the University of Washington, and they concluded that our technology was the best out there in terms of this approach. None of the false positives they found came from us, at all, and we got high marks from them. So we feel very comfortable that the technology is very accurate and very reliable, but we're also happy to have it examined to ensure that that's the case.

Can other industries, such as the film business, get in on the same arrangement with ISPs?

Our negotiations have been just with us, but there's no reason to think that ISPs aren't talking with all sorts of copyright owners. I think ISPs would understand that any system that they set up to protect one form of content should appropriately be available for other forms of content because it's hard to justify why some would be protected and others not.

How will you deal with ISPs that choose not to cooperate? Will they be notified about subscribers who share files? Will you proceed with lawsuits?

That's an issue we hope not to have to address. There's been, as you pointed out earlier, a real movement toward ISPs assuming a more proactive role in dealing with online piracy in constructive way that's sensitive to their subscribers, that's sensitive to privacy, that's sensitive to content, and that is frankly responsive to their needs in terms of network congestion and offering good consumer experiences to all their subscribers. I mean, there are a lot of considerations here.

But, for one reason or another, this has been something that has been talked about all over the world: New Zealand, Korea, France, the UK, Japan, Australia. There are a lot of countries that are encouraging their ISP and content communities to be having discussions. Very often in Europe, it's more of a regulatory regime, and they think of things more in terms of legislation. This is entirely voluntary and I think it's made possible because the business interests of the industries are converging.

There was a time five years ago when ISPs were solely focused on increasing their broadband penetration, and cutting back on piracy was not part of their business interest. Five years later, they're in a very different place. They want to be portals in their own right, they want to offer their subscribers great content; it's something that distinguishes one from another. They're looking at themselves as more than the dumb pipes that they were five years ago, and I think that opens up partnerships that didn't exist before.

As you said, governments have been pushing this in many places. Do you believe this entire process can remain voluntary in the US, or will you seek government backing for the scheme, as in Europe?

We have not sought government backing. The involvement of Attorney General Cuomo, for example, is really voluntary, using his good offices to address an issue he feels strongly about. New York state is enormously impacted economically by the piracy that the music industry faces, and he's already done things [with ISPs] on child pornography, obviously, and he wants to try to find constructive solutions for this problem. This has not been a government play, this is really voluntary with help and influence from intermediaries.

You said a moment ago that ISPs were interested in being portals, offering content, possibly providing blanket music licenses to subscribers. Are any special content deals part of these graduated response talks?

They are not, because those kinds of deals would have to be negotiated individually with our member companies. We cannot get involved in that.

Finally, current cases; if the original verdict in the Jammie Thomas case is not reinstated, will you proceed with a new trial?

We're going to see what happens when the court rules on the appeal, and then decide what the next step as we do in the ordinary course of any other case.


Freddie Hubbard, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 70
Peter Keepnews

Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died on Monday in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 70 and lived in Sherman Oaks.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he had on Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.

Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Mr. Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success — although rarely for the same projects.

He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (1964) and John Coltrane’s “Ascension” (1965).

In the 1970s Mr. Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting a larger audience, with albums that featured electric instruments, rock and funk rhythms, string arrangements and repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly, Wow.” His audience did indeed grow, but his standing in the jazz world diminished.

By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet. After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.

Mr. Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music’s premier talent scout.

Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Mr. Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him “one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the ’60s.”

After leaving Blakey’s band in 1964, Mr. Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.

His first albums for the label, notably “Red Clay,” contained some of the best playing of his career and, except for slicker production and the presence of some electric instruments, were not significantly different from his work for Blue Note. But his later albums on CTI, and the ones he made after leaving the label for Columbia in 1974, put less and less emphasis on improvisation and relied more and more on glossy arrangements and pop appeal. They sold well, for the most part, but were attacked, or in some cases simply ignored, by jazz critics. Within a few years Mr. Hubbard was expressing regrets about his career path.

Most of his recordings as a leader from the early 1980s on, for Pablo, Musicmasters and other labels, were small-group sessions emphasizing his gifts as an improviser that helped restore his critical reputation. But in 1992 he suffered a setback from which he never fully recovered.

By Mr. Hubbard’s own account, he seriously injured his upper lip that year by playing too hard, without warming up, once too often. The lip became infected, and for the rest of his life it was a struggle for him to play with his trademark strength and fire. As Howard Mandel explained in a 2008 Down Beat article, “His ability to project and hold a clear tone was damaged, so his fast finger flurries often result in blurts and blurs rather than explosive phrases.”

Mr. Hubbard nonetheless continued to perform and record sporadically, primarily on fluegelhorn rather than on the more demanding trumpet. In his last years he worked mostly with the trumpeter David Weiss, who featured Mr. Hubbard as a guest artist with his group, the New Jazz Composers Octet, on albums released under Mr. Hubbard’s name in 2001 and 2008, and at occasional nightclub engagements.

Mr. Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album “First Light” in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.

Mr. Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, he offered some sober advice to younger musicians: “Don’t make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don’t overblow.”

Delaney Bramlett Dies in L.A.

Rock guitarist Delaney Bramlett, who collaborated with such artists as George Harrison and Eric Clapton, died in a Los Angeles hospital following gallbladder surgery. He was 69.

His wife, Susan Lanier-Bramlett, said he died on Saturday after "seven hard months" of ill health.

"I held him and he held on up until the last breath with which he went in peace to the light and on into eternity," she said in a statement.

The Mississippi native first gained renown in the late 1960s as part of the southern-fried rhythm and blues combo Delaney & Bonnie, which he formed with his first wife, Bonnie Lynn. The gifted duo were often overshadowed by their "Friends," as their backing group was known. Among them was Clapton, who regularly performed as a low-key sideman.

Bramlett, in turn, produced Clapton's self-titled debut solo album in 1970, and co-wrote most of the songs, including the gospel-tinged hit single "Let It Rain."

Clapton brought Delaney & Bonnie to England, and recruited such musicians as Harrison and Dave Mason to perform at their shows. According to Bramlett's biography, he taught Harrison how to play slide guitar and to write a gospel song, which led to the recording of the former Beatle's hit single "My Sweet Lord."

Delaney & Bonnie enjoyed a few hits of their own, including the 1971 tune "Never Ending Song Of Love," but their popularity faded after Clapton moved on. The couple divorced after releasing their last album together, 1972's "Together."

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Jackie Frank)

Donald E. Westlake, Mystery Writer, Is Dead at 75
Jennifer 8. Lee

Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning mystery novelist who pounded out more than 100 books and 5 screenplays on manual typewriters during a career of nearly 50 years, died on Wednesday night. He was 75.

Mr. Westlake collapsed as he was headed to New Year’s Eve dinner while on vacation in Mexico, said his wife, Abigail Westlake.

The cause was a heart attack, she said.

Mr. Westlake, considered one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States, received an Academy Award nomination for a screenplay, three Edgar Awards and the title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.

Since his first novel, “The Mercenaries,” was published by Random House in 1960, Mr. Westlake had written under his own name and several pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt and Edwin West. Despite the diversity of pen names, most of his books shared one feature: They were set in New York City, where he was born.

Mr. Westlake used different names in part to combat skepticism over his rapid rate of writing books, sometimes as many as four a year, his friends said.

“In the beginning, people didn’t want to publish more than one book a year by the same author,” said Susan Richman, his publicist at Grand Central Publishing.

Later in his career, Mr. Westlake limited himself to two pen names, each generally focusing on one primary character: He used his own name to write about an unintentionally comical criminal named John Dortmunder, and as Richard Stark wrote a series about an anti-hero and criminal named Parker.

Mr. Westlake occasionally wrote about other characters, such as Burke Devore, the downsized executive turned murderer in “The Ax,” whom The New York Times described in 1997 “as emblematic of his time as George F. Babbitt and Holden Caulfield and Capt. John Yossarian were of theirs.”

The full panoply of Mr. Westlake’s books was a spectacle to behold, his friends said. “We were in his library, this beautiful library surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of titles,” said Laurence Kirshbaum, his agent, “and I realized that every single book was written by Donald Westlake, English-language and foreign-language editions.”

Mr. Westlake’s cinematic style of storytelling, along with his carefully crafted plots and crisp dialogue, translated well on the screen. More than 15 of his books were made into movies. In addition, he wrote a number of screenplays, including “The Grifters,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991.

Mr. Westlake wrote seven days a week, his friends said. His productiveness was honed in part by an era in which publishing houses churned out books at a relentless pace. During that time, he also wrote erotic literature, science fiction and westerns.

Mr. Westlake resisted computers and typed his manuscripts on manual typewriters. “They came in perfectly typed,” Mr. Kirshbaum said. “You felt like it was almost written by hand.”

Otto Penzler, a longtime friend of Mr. Westlake’s and the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in TriBeCa, said, “He hated the idea of an electric typewriter because, he said, ‘I don’t want to sit there while I am thinking and have something hum at me.’ ”

Mr. Westlake kept four or five typewriters and cannibalized their parts when any one broke, as the typewriter model was no longer manufactured, his friends said.

“He lived in fear that he wouldn’t have his little portable typewriter,” said Mr. Penzler, who once gave him a similar typewriter that he had found in a secondhand store.

Donald Edwin Westlake was born to Lillian and Albert Westlake on July 12, 1933, in Brooklyn, and was raised in Yonkers and Albany. He attended colleges in New York, but did not graduate. He married Abigail Adams in 1979, and the couple settled in Gallatin, N.Y. He was previously married to Nedra Henderson and Sandra Kalb.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Westlake is survived by four sons, Sean Westlake, Steven Westlake, Paul Westlake and Tod Westlake; two stepdaughters, Adrienne Adams and Katherine Adams; a stepson, Patrick Adams; a sister, Virginia VanDermark; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Westlake was productive until his death. His next novel, “Get Real,” is scheduled for release in April.

Ann Savage, Cult Movie Actress, Dies at 87

Ann Savage, who earned a cult following as a femme fatale in 1940s pulp-fiction movies, most notably as the ruthless villain in “Detour,” died on Dec. 27. She was 87.

The cause was complications of a series of strokes, said her manager, Kent Adamson.

Ms. Savage’s Hollywood career had largely been over since the mid-1950s, but in the last year she had a starring role in a film by the Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, “My Winnipeg.”

Starting with her 1943 debut in the crime story “One Dangerous Night,” she made more than 30 films through the 1950s, including westerns (“Saddles and Sagebrush,” “Satan’s Cradle”), musicals (“Dancing in Manhattan,” “Ever Since Venus”) and wartime tales (“Passport to Suez,” “Two-Man Submarine”).

In “Detour,” her best-known film, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer in 1945, she played a woman blackmailing a stranger, played by Tom Neal.

“It’s actually a showcase role,” Mr. Adamson said. “Neal and Savage really reversed the traditional male-female roles of the time. She’s vicious and predatory. She’s been called a harpy from hell, and in the film, too, she’s very sexually aggressive, and he’s very, very passive.”

Decades later, “Detour” and Ms. Savage gained a new audience on television and video.

Mr. Adamson said Mr. Maddin had been a longtime fan of “Detour” when he cast Ms. Savage to play his mother in “My Winnipeg,” a documentary, drama and memoir about his native city.

She did some television in the 1950s, including “Death Valley Days” and “The Ford Television Theater,” then left Hollywood for New York, where she appeared in commercials.

In 1986, Ms. Savage returned to acting with an appearance in the drama “Fire With Fire.”

Judge Delays Ruling on Blocking Release of ‘Watchmen’ Film
Michael Cieply

Who’s watching the “Watchmen”? Come March 6, it may not be moviegoers.

A federal judge, having ruled last week that 20th Century Fox has distribution rights to “Watchmen,” an eagerly anticipated superhero movie shot by Warner Brothers, said he was inclined to decide after a hearing scheduled for Jan. 20 whether the release of the film should be blocked.

At a morning conference, lawyers for both studios heard the judge, Gary A. Feess, elaborate on his ruling, issued last Wednesday, that Fox owned an interest in “Watchmen,” a film Warner was preparing to release on March 6 in association with Legendary Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

“I thought we ought to talk,” Judge Feess told the lawyers in opening the session. In an exchange that quickly became testy, Steven A. Marenberg, a lawyer representing Warner, challenged the judge’s decision to rule in Fox’s favor without a trial. But Judge Feess said he planned to move on to the question of remedies rather than fight the issues again.

“I have spent more time than I think you can imagine working on your case at a time when I didn’t expect to be working on it,” Judge Feess said, referring to an expedited schedule that was intended to resolve the movie’s status before its planned release.
Hollywood ownership fights are not rare, but a dispute over a film that has already been shot and is on the verge of being released is highly unusual. Warner released a statement saying, “We respectfully but vigorously disagree with the court’s ruling and are exploring all of our appellate options.”

The film has been eagerly awaited since last year, when the director Zack Snyder, best known for “300,” announced that he planned a movie based on the widely known graphic novel “Watchmen.”

But the film became embroiled in an extraordinary dispute between studios last winter, when Fox filed suit, claiming that it owned the property on which the movie was based. As the case progressed, fingers pointed from all sides at Lawrence Gordon, the veteran producer who brought the film to Warner after failed attempts over the years to make it with Fox, Universal Pictures and then Paramount.

From the beginning, Fox has contended, among other things, that Mr. Gordon — who was never named as a defendant in the case — failed in an obligation to offer the movie to that studio when Mr. Snyder became involved. Mr. Snyder signed on in the wake of his success with “300” for Warner and Legendary, giving the project a cachet it had lacked.

Warner’s lawyers argued that Mr. Gordon and his lawyers had signed over rights to “Watchmen” without mentioning a crucial agreement between a company Mr. Gordon controlled and Fox. Also, they said that if anyone still owed a buyout fee to Fox, it was Mr. Gordon.

Judge Feess then weighed in with an unusual reprimand. In a footnote to his order indicating that he would rule in favor of Fox, the judge said Mr. Gordon’s decision to invoke attorney-client privilege rather than testify about his contractual arrangements had helped Fox.

“The court takes a dim view of this conduct,” Judge Feess wrote. “The court will not, during the remainder of this case, receive any evidence from Gordon that attempts to contradict any aspect of this court’s ruling on the copyright issues under discussion.”

“Watchmen” acquired almost mythic status in Hollywood as a project that could not be filmed. Based on a series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, it follows the tawdry lives of superheroes in a world that has rejected them.

The tale was long considered too dark for a mainstream film. But the culture changed, and heroes in the “X-Men” and “Batman” films took on more somber tones without losing their audience. As a result, “Watchmen” could be a lucrative prize for the winning studio. Warner leads all studios in box-office results for 2008 based on hits including “The Dark Knight,” “Sex and the City” and “Four Christmases.” Fox lags far behind but has had big hits recently, included “Marley & Me.”

Mr. Snyder has walked a difficult line in adapting “Watchmen,” which has cult status among its fans. He has made a point of remaining true to the tone of his material and much of its story, but has clearly made concessions to the limits of a feature-length film, for instance, by withholding an elaborate “Tales of the Dark Freighter” subplot for a separate film to be released on DVD.

Mr. Snyder has said he will not become involved with any sequel to “Watchmen,” out of respect for the integrity of its story.

Taking a Victory Lap as New Arena Champ
Jon Caramanica

It seems clear that 2008 will go down as the year of Lil Wayne. But for what, exactly, will he be remembered? In 2006 he emerged as an inventive, often eccentric lyricist after years as second or third fiddle. Last year he became an abstract expressionist, splattering words across beats with little regard for structure, his mixtapes becoming like dizzying hot flashes.

But this year, thanks to his quirky, sinewy album “Tha Carter III” (Cash Money/Universal Motown), he became something much more ordinary: a superstar.

Sunday night at the Susquehanna Bank Center here — an early stop on this rapper’s I Am Music tour and his first time headlining in arenas — he did his best to inhabit the role with a combination of charisma and virtuosity, though his performance was flecked with bits of hubris and naïveté as well. “Tha Carter III” was the only album this year to sell more than a million copies in its first week (it has sold about three million to date, a smash by today’s diminished standards), and he recently received eight Grammy nominations, the most ever in one year for a rapper. But for all of Lil Wayne’s success, he remains a work in progress, trying on various approaches to celebrity, waiting to see which ones fit best.

The name of this tour comes from a tattoo, red and faint and in shaky capital letters, etched on the right side of Lil Wayne’s face, just above his eyebrow. It first appeared in February, before it was clear he would translate his mixtape idiosyncrasies into pop savvy. At the time it seemed ridiculous.

And yet the fluidity connoted by that phrase was reflected in his complete-immersion set here, which was intuitive and chose no favorites. Everything was equally well organized, or perhaps equally disorganized: the song order, the song choice, when dancers appeared, what they would wear, what Wayne himself would wear, which songs would receive priority and which ones would be sped through, or skipped altogether.

In this thicket Lil Wayne’s main error was in mistaking his blockbuster for a masterpiece. He performed about half of the songs from “Tha Carter III” — from the whimsical “La La” to the morose “DontGetIt” to a sometimes brutal, sometimes transcendent rock version of “A Milli” — making barely any distinction between hits and obscurities, or between these new songs and any of his others. He played songs from mixtapes (“Sky’s the Limit”) and ones he’s a guest on (DJ Khaled’s “We Takin’ Over”) with equal gusto. One of the night’s most invigorating moments was his impassioned delivery of his chorus from the Game’s “My Life.” Sometimes, when his own words ran out, he rapped someone else’s, like Jay-Z’s verse from “Mr. Carter,” and Tity Boi’s verse from Playaz Circle’s “Duffle Bag Boy,” on which Lil Wayne ordinarily only performs the hook.

The crowd — largely white, predominantly young, evenly split along gender lines — kept up, only seeming lost when he performed the title track of his first solo album, 1999’s “Tha Block Is Hot,” whose laser-thin synths and speedy bounce sounded far more than a decade old.

Like so many of the moments that have contributed to Lil Wayne’s celebrity, this night’s events had an ad hoc feel to them. Throughout the show Lil Wayne was backed by a five-piece band whose members were hoisted up and down on individual platforms, sometimes at what seemed to be random intervals. The crowd wasn’t let into the arena until a half-hour after the concert was scheduled to begin, and as opening acts raced through their songs, stage workers could be seen fine-tuning the set.

Notably, none of Lil Wayne’s opening acts on this tour are rappers, though the rotund Atlanta bully Gorilla Zoe made a brief, unannounced appearance at the beginning of this show. (The robo-soul auteur and frequent Lil Wayne collaborator T-Pain didn’t perform here, though he’s scheduled to play most of the remaining tour dates.) Whether the arrangement was a testament to Lil Wayne’s open mind or the sign of a young prince digging a moat around his castle was tough to tell. Maybe it was because no rapper wanted to suffer comparisons with the headliner.

The acts that accepted that challenge didn’t fare particularly well on Sunday. The emo-rap band Gym Class Heroes was bedeviled by sound problems that rendered the majority of its set all but incomprehensible. The slinky up-and-coming R&B singer and songwriter Keri Hilson barely left a dent. Of the openers only the soul siren Keyshia Cole stood out. A specialist in milking poetry from bruises, she was received rapturously, especially by the young women in the audience, but she spent too much time in choreographed dance routines in which she often appeared to be just a hair of a step behind her back-up troupe. The dancing was superfluous, especially when Ms. Cole would pause to immaculately hit a big note in a manner so bracing it rendered the rest of the activity onstage utterly moot.

Her performance also had something Lil Wayne’s didn’t quite: high points. His free-form careering from song to song was engrossing, but only rarely thrilling, and some of his moves have become rote. During “Prostitute Flange,” he sat on a stool and strapped on a guitar that he at least did not pretend to play, as he often has in the past. And at the end of the show, in what is now a tradition, the loudspeakers blasted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as Wayne lip-synched and had an assistant drape a long robe over his shoulders. For 2009 to matter as much as 2008 has, he’ll have to find a few new poses.

CCC Hackers Break DECT Telephones' Security
Sub Zero 992

Heise Security (article in German) is reporting that at this year's Chaos Communications Congress (25C3) researchers in Europe's dedected.org group have published an article (pdf) showing, using a PC-Card costing only EUR 23, how to eavesdrop on DECT transmissions. There are hundreds of millions of terminals, ranging from telephones, to electronic payment terminals, to door openers, using the DECT standard.

So far, the Heise article's German only, but I suspect will show up soon in English translation.

Was “Top Gear” Test of the Tesla Misleading?
Richard S. Chang

“Top Gear,” the British television show about cars, has a flair for the dramatic, but a recent episode featuring a review of the Tesla Roadster electric car has called the show’s methods into question.

In the segment, Jeremy Clarkson, one of the show’s three hosts, flogs a Tesla around a test track – to whoops and hollers – until the car slows down and unexpectedly stops. Mr. Clarkson looks at the camera, seemingly befuddled. He and three others are forced to push the car into a warehouse for a battery recharge. At least that’s what the video seems to show.

“Although Tesla says that it does 200 miles, we worked out that on our test track, it would run out after just 55 miles,” Mr. Clarkson says in a voice over.

But did the car actually run out of juice?

No, says Tesla Motors, which stores its cars’ driving history in memory sticks. In fact, it didn’t lose its charge at all. According to Rachel Konrad, spokeswoman for the San Carlos, Calif., company, the battery charge of the two cars that Tesla lent to “Top Gear” never fell below 20 percent.

Wired.com first reported the false breakdown on Dec. 16 when it published a response from Ms. Konrad. “They never had to push a car off the track because of lack of charge or a fault,” she said.

A few days later, a spokeswoman for “Top Gear” issued a statement saying the car was “videotaped being pushed to show what would have happened if the Roadster had run out of charge,” according to Edmunds Green Car Advisor.

“Top Gear stands by the findings in this film and is content that it offers a fair representation of the Tesla’s performance on the day it was tested,” the BBC said.

Mr. Clarkson offered his own statement to the Telegraph.

“We never said once that the car had run out of power,” he said. “The car had to be pushed into the warehouse because you are not allowed to drive cars into a building.”

He added: “We calculated that it would have run out of power after 53 miles, but they can’t argue with that because that is a fact.”

Mr. Clarkson did not explain how “Top Gear” came up with that figure (or why he had said 55 miles during the show’s taping). Ms. Konrad said in an interview that the E.P.A.-certified range of the Tesla Roadster was actually 240 miles, but “if you’re constantly pushing 0-to-60 and running at the top speed of 120 miles per hour, it, like gasoline cars, will have lower range.”

But she said she couldn’t understand how the show calculated 55 (or 53) miles.

The 10-minute review of the Tesla, which will air on BBC America early next year, was generally positive about the performance of the car. In fact, Mr. Clarkson compares it favorably with the Lotus Elise, on which the Roadster is based. During a comparison drive, he storms past the Elise in a straight, amid tire squeals and music, and says in a voice over: “This car really was then shaping up to be something wonderful, but then…”

His voice trails off. We see a shot of Mr. Clarkson, appearing confused, looking down to the gas pedal. The tire squeals and music dissipate as the car slows to a stop on the test track.

Tara Davies, a spokeswoman for the BBC, said: “We never claim that the car ran out of charge. The voiceover says, ‘If it does run out it’s not a quick job to charge it up again.”

But the sequence of images leading up to the car being pushed into the warehouse is powerful. And the segment ends with Mr. Clarkson walking alone down an empty track under a dark sky with no car in sight:

“So with the light fading, we had no cars at all,” he says.

He concludes: “What we have here then is an astonishing technical achievement: the first electric car that you might actually want to buy. It’s just a shame that in the real world, it doesn’t seem to work.” Fade to black.

Ms. Davies, the BBC spokeswoman, said several times in an interview that “Top Gear” was “an entertainment program.”

Indeed, the episode with the Tesla also included a segment on an attempt to jump an old Jaguar, towing a camper, over several cars.

Asked if “Top Gear” plans to amend the episode when it runs on BBC America to clarify the dramatized sequence, Ms. Davies said it would run “as is.”

To Save Battery Life, Turn Down the Heat
Peter Wayner

NIKOLAI ORLOV builds electronic gadgets for a living, so he’s pretty demanding. When he comes home and wants to build robots with his 14-year-old daughter, Alexandra, he wants the batteries to be charged and ready.

“They eat batteries really fast because they have three motors,” said the Silicon Valley-based hardware engineer.

One day Mr. Orlov noticed his charger wasn’t filling the cells to the top. Because he is an engineer, he reached for his multimeter and oscilloscope and checked the current. After a few days, he found a malfunction in the circuit and fixed it by soldering in a few extra components (capacitors, to be exact). Soon, the batteries were fully charged.

While most people have neither his tools nor his skills, everyone can relate to Mr. Orlov’s frustration when it comes to battery life. It sometimes feels as if an advanced degree is necessary just to keep our phones, P.D.A.’s and laptops running for more than a few minutes. Fortunately, there are some simple principles that solve many of the most common problems — and none of them requires a master’s or a Ph.D.

Battery experts say their No. 1 problem is heat. Too much warmth causes the battery to drain faster. John Wozniak, a technologist at Hewlett-Packard responsible for testing batteries, had some advice for the owner of a battery-powered device: “You don’t want to leave it sitting on the front seat of a car. It’s like the care and feeding of the baby. Don’t leave it in the car with the window rolled up.”

In rare cases, some batteries can overheat on their own. Mr. Wozniak uses the phrase “thermal runaway,” a term that can mean anything from toasting a user’s lap to catching fire. Manufacturers now include special circuits in laptop batteries to watch for this and, if detected, shut down the system.

Mr. Wozniak said that it was dangerous for home users to take apart their laptop batteries to replace the individual cells inside the plastic housing (a cost-saving measure described by some do-it-yourselfers on the Internet) because the fail-safe circuitry may be damaged in the soldering and unsoldering process.

A second important step is keeping the contacts to the battery clean. An eraser is an ideal accessory for any charging station because it’s one of the simplest ways to remove the thin layer of oxide that can build up on the two metal tabs of the battery. Make sure to clean the contacts on the device as well and then blow away any eraser bits.

Opinions vary on the best way to avoid frequent recharging. The advice depends heavily on the type of battery. Mr. Wozniak, for instance, suggests disconnecting your battery if you use your laptop as a desktop replacement. The heat and the constant charging wear it down.

He said that some laptop manufacturers like H.P. were beginning to explore adding circuitry that would help avoid this problem, but were confounded by the problem of anticipating just when the customer would unplug the laptop and expect it to be 100 percent ready. The best solution, he says, is to leave the battery half-charged in a cool room and charge it completely just before using the laptop.

James DeJager, the technical director for Kodak batteries, sees nothing wrong with frequent recharging, at least for the lithium-ion batteries that are now standard in many laptops and cellphones. “For a lithium-ion, consumers should feel free to top them off as often as possible,” he said. “If you’ve taken your cellphone with you and you’ve only used it a little bit, you’re extending your cycle life by topping it off and preventing a deep discharge.”

He says he understands the argument for disconnecting the battery but says the circuitry can handle such constant charging. Furthermore, he said in an e-mail message, it was “better to keep the contacts clean and avoid the possible damage from repeated insertion/removal of battery.” Much of the confusion about this point comes from nickel-metal hydride cells, the previous generation of battery technology, which work better if they are often depleted completely before recharging. These batteries are now used mainly in digital cameras, flashlights and power tools. They can lose capacity if they are not discharged completely, often called the “memory effect.”

Newer lithium-ion cells do not suffer from this malady, but users might want to deplete their batteries from time to time anyway. The circuitry that estimates the amount of power left inside a battery can become uncalibrated. Depleting the battery resets this meter.

Incidentally, Mr. Wozniak says that new and better circuits are now appearing that measure the battery’s charge directly, avoiding cumulative accounting. “By this time next year we won’t be manufacturing batteries that have faulty fuel gauges on them,” he predicted.

The third important step is to match the battery to the job. While all batteries deliver power, some handle low, drawn-out demand better while others excel at heftier currents.

Mr. Orlov, for instance, uses rechargeable cells in his robots but regular alkaline batteries for wall clocks and remote controls. Why? Traditional rechargeable cells leak a relatively large amount of power, whether being used or not. A rechargeable battery in a remote control will probably lose more energy to leakage than it will use for channel surfing. Alkaline cells leak far less and last longer.

That is beginning to change as manufacturers create new rechargeable batteries that leak less. Mr. DeJager said he was particularly proud of a new line of nickel-metal hydride batteries with a shelf life four times longer than its predecessor’s. Kodak calls them “precharged” to emphasize that they can be used right out of the package. Mr. De- Jager jokes that some at Kodak wanted to call them “low self-discharge,” an accurate term with an unfortunate abbreviation.

These batteries may hold their charge longer in storage, but they come with smaller capacity. The precharged batteries from Kodak are rated to hold 2,100 milliamp hours of power that last about 19 percent less time before needing recharging than what Mr. DeJager calls the “original recipe” with capacities of 2,500 or 2,600 milliamp hours. Trading capacity for shelf life also affects the number of times a battery can be used and recharged. Mr. DeJager estimates that the fatter 2,600-milliamp-hour batteries can be refilled about 500 times in ideal circumstances. The 2,100-milliamp-hour cells may endure twice as many recharging cycles.

Isidor Buchmann, the founder of Cadex Electronics, which makes battery testing equipment, says the manufacturers and the consumers are in an eternal struggle. Just as the battery companies find a new set of chemicals that offer solid performance in an acceptable shape, consumers are demanding more performance from their electronics — performance that uses more power.

“In the 1990s, there was a battery problem,” he said, but now the lithium-ion cells have been good at delivering the power devices need to accomplish all that consumers expect. With the air of a banker discussing the business cycle, Mr. Buchman holds no illusions: “There will be a battery problem again,” he said, “with the cellphones and all of the things people want to do.”

Lobbyist Linked by Times to McCain Sues Paper

A Washington lobbyist is suing The New York Times over an article that she says gave the false impression she had an affair with Sen. John McCain in 1999.

Vicki L. Iseman filed the $27 million defamation suit in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Tuesday. It also names as defendants the Times' executive editor, its Washington bureau chief and four reporters.

The newspaper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iseman represented telecommunications companies before the Senate Commerce Committee, which McCain chaired. In February, as McCain was seeking the Republican presidential nomination, the Times reported that McCain aides once worried the relationship between Iseman and McCain had turned romantic.

At the time, McCain denounced the story as false. Iseman also denied it later.

New York Times Sued Over Boston.com's Linking Practice
Elinor Mills

A publisher of mostly small, local newspapers has sued the New York Times Co. over its aggregation of news headlines on Boston.com, challenging the practice many sites use of linking to other sources.

In its lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Monday, Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse Media, which publishes more than 100 papers in Massachusetts, accuses the Times of violating copyright by allowing its Boston Globe online unit to copy verbatim the headlines and first sentences from articles published on sites owned by GateHouse, including the Newton Tab.

The links, as seen on Boston.com's Newton site for instance, lead to the original articles on the GateHouse-owned sites, which display advertising. However the lawsuit claims GateHouse is losing advertising revenue as a result of the linking because readers don't see the ads on the GateHouse site's home page.

The linking also confuses readers, leading them to believe that GateHouse endorses the linking practice, according to the lawsuit.

Catherine Mathis, senior vice president of corporate communications at the New York Times, said the linking practice is commonly used around the Web and that GateHouse's claims are without merit.

"Boston.com's local pages, like hundreds of other news sites, aggregate headlines and snippets of relevant stories published on the Web. They link back to the originating site where the interested user can read the entire article," she wrote in a statement.

"Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web," Mathis wrote. "It is fair and benefits both Web users and the originating site."

In an e-mail sent to GateHouse staff, an executive said GateHouse had taken the legal action after being unable to resolve the matter informally.

"GateHouse has taken this step to enforce its rights under the law and protect the integrity of its trademarks and original news content, in furtherance of its ability to provide hyper-local news coverage to its newspaper readers and website viewers in the communities throughout the greater Boston region which it has served over many years," wrote Kirk Davis, president of GateHouse Media New England. "As a matter of policy, I won't be commenting further on this matter. Instead, it is appropriate that we let this matter take its natural legal course."

Google got heat a few years ago for its Google News aggregation of headlines and summaries and settled a copyright lawsuit with Agence France-Presse last year. Google also is paying the Associated Press to use its content on Google News.

Meanwhile, a weekly publication in Chicago, The Chicago Reader, has pointed the finger at The Huffington Post for re-posting an entire concert preview.

In an e-mail sent to CNET News on Tuesday, Chicago Reader Web Editor Whet Moser wrote that the Huffington Post had printed multiple concert previews "in full from multiple publications over the course of a couple months."

Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti defended the site's aggregation practice to Wired News and said the complete article re-printing was a mistake.

Chilean Anti-Piracy Law Drafted on Pirated Software
Lester Haines

Chilean lawyer Guillermo Frêne is having a bit of a bad hair day after it was revealed that draft legislation aimed at cutting the internet connections of illegal downloading ne'er-do-wells was presented in .doc format written on pirated software.

The full outrage was exposed here, which shows that the firm of attorneys responsible for the document goes by the rather unusual name of "The houze":

Document properties showing the organisation as The houze!

According to the exposé, "many modified (and illegal) copies of Microsoft Office are identified as belonging to 'The houze!'", and that the program forms part of a "Windows Unattended Edition".

Frêne, meanwhile, has responded (in Spanish, natch) that he was "never involved in drafting the said legislation".

He admits he doesn't know how his name came to be on the document, but explains he worked as a parliamenary adviser between 2007-8 and suspects it was based on some file from the personal computer he used at that time.

A Cold Call, a Blog, and a $20 Million Lawsuit

A North Carolina entrepreneur blogs a warning to her industry -- and gets sued for her troubles.
Jess McCuan

In January, Leslie Richard got a call from a man from Vision Media Television. The Boca Raton, Florida, TV production company wanted to know if Richard would agree to be interviewed for a documentary on eco-fashion. According to Richard, the caller implied that the film might air on PBS or possibly on CNN.

"I was nervous, but I was totally, like, Yeah -- I'll do it," says Richard. A TV appearance promised to be a huge PR boost for her two-year-old Asheville, North Carolina, company, The Oko Box, which sells clothing made of organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo.
As talks progressed, however, Richard, 31, grew increasingly skeptical about the documentary. She says another Vision Media employee told her that Oko Box would be charged $22,900 to cover some production expenses, plus $3,000 for travel costs. Feeling "creeped out," Richard called the Better Business Bureau and posted a message about her experience on her company's blog. "Look alive small eco business owners," she wrote, " 'cause there is a new scam targeting us. [u]sing television lingo, an entire team of people, a website, video footage, and [a] whole bag of lies to cover their scheme."

As cathartic as this blog post may have been, it put Richard's business at risk. Anything posted on a CEO's blog -- including reader comments -- can be construed as carrying the weight of a company's endorsement, says Marc Zwillinger, an attorney in the Washington, D.C., office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. "Blogging is a cheap and scalable way to talk to interested people," adds Seth Godin, an avid blogger and the author of 10 books on marketing. "But understand that while you advocate for your company, you are also walking a tightrope from a legal and business point of view."

Initially, Richard says, her blog elicited responses from more than 50 business owners who said they had dealt with Vision Media and shared her concerns. One person sent Richard a statement found on PBS's website from 2004 that said the network was "not associated with and does not endorse" a list of companies that included Vision Media. When the production company threatened to sue Richard if she didn't take down her blog, she wrote: "Um, yeah VMT your scam is being posted & has already been reported, and your imaginary lawyers can't do anything about it."

In July, Vision Media made good on its threat and filed a lawsuit in Florida against Richard and her company, asserting that the comments on Oko Box's blog (which Richard reposted in a members-only chat room maintained by a group for social entrepreneurs) had directly resulted in $5 million in lost business. The suit also asked the court to award Vision Media $15 million in punitive damages.

Mark Miller, an executive producer at Vision Media, denies that his company claimed to work with PBS. He also says Vision Media has a good rating with the Better Business Bureau, contrary to a post published in the comments section of Richard's website. "We've lost a lot of business as a result of her blog," Miller says.

After the initial shock wore off, Richard found a lawyer in Florida who was willing to work with her pro bono. At presstime in late September, Richard was close to a settlement with Vision Media, and she said she was prepared to take down the blog posts.

Richard says the nine-month standoff could have been avoided if Vision Media had just said, "We're a video company that does advertorials; you can use it however you want, and this is how much it costs." Miller asserts that his company does, as a policy, mention fees in the first phone call and that Richard misunderstood the pitch. "Our presentation is crystal clear," he says. (PBS declined to elaborate on its statement concerning Vision Media.)

As CEO blogs proliferate, so will the legal issues. "My sense is that she could have written her warning post in a more careful way," Godin says. "I want to push CEOs to be authentic on their blogs and to be selfless in trying to help readers. But they also have to understand that their words will be out there and widely seen. So they owe it to their stakeholders to act responsibly."

Great Firewall of Australia: What’s Not Mentioned Makes it Even More Scary
Duncan Riley

Many in Australia, and those overseas interested in censorship would have now read a post from the Australian Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy responding to concern over the implementation of the Great Firewall of Australia.

I won’t rehash what’s already been reported, but having read it several times since publication, it’s what’s left out that makes the proposal even more scary.

Free Speech

The Minister has stated that political speech will not be filtered under the proposal, but fails to define acceptable free speech and does nothing more to articulate his previous comments that “unwanted” material will be filtered under the scheme.

The problem here is the extraordinary mish-mash of Australian laws relating to open speech. In Victoria for example inciting religious hatred is an offense, so theoretically arguing against a particular religion would constitute hate speech instead of fair political speech.

Australia has a long track record of banning books, but for all the hatred are we now not better today having access to something like Mein Kampf so we can understand how wrong it is. There is a blurred line between political and hate speech, and blocking such speech on the internet will not stop people accessing it.

Conroy is disingenuous in suggesting that the Government is pro-free speech, yet pro-censorship: the price of free speech is that we must put up with the stuff we don’t like. The alternative system is not free speech, it’s totalitarianism.

Adult Games

Australia still has the bizarre situation of refusing to categorize video games for adults. The Minister says nothing of such games online, so we can still only presume that adult games online that would be refused categorization in Australia will be blocked under the filter.

Such games include online virtual world Second Life among many.

It should be remembered that Australia is a country that refused classification to Duke Nukem 3D, let alone far more seriously violent games.


Whether you like pornography or not, the hypocrisy of the Governments proposal remains the same. Senator Conroy continues to point to existing guidelines being extended to International content, but ignores the absurdity in the current guidelines.

R rated pornography is legal in Australia and can be purchased at newsagents or service stations. Under the guidelines proposed, R rated pornography online would be illegal unless those pages included an thorough adult verification scheme. That doesn’t mean enter your date here to proceed: as has previously been the case for age requirements for mobile content and R rated content hosted in Australia (of which there is little to none) that would include handing over credit card details, or in some cases being forced to register with the provider first, including the provision of adequate identifying measures to prove ones age.

The net affect is that 99.99% of R rated pornography, or any R rated material under this proposal will be blocked by the filter, as overseas providers will not bend over backwards to cater for a small market like Australia. Secondly: Australian’s will be none to keen to hand over details to these sites should they meet the criteria.

X Rated pornography is treated more strictly in Australia currently, but is quite legal, and available for purchase from the ACT and Northern Territory. X rated material under this proposal will be completely banned: so while it is legal to possess, look at or own in print or video, it will now be completely blocked online. Again: whether you agree with porn or not, the hypocrisy is rich. In terms of freedom of speech it also raises other issues: who is the Government to play moral guardian online over a picture of two consenting adults having sex? Presuming they are doing nothing illegal, why in the 21st century does the Government seek to prevent others seeing it? Government finally got out of the bedroom in the 80s when homosexuality became legal, some would argue that X Rated porn is no different again.

Secret Blacklist/ Due Process

The Minister points out that the blacklist to be maintained by ACMA will remain a secret, and cites legislation supporting this. His reasoning, as it seems to be for everything, is that it’s all about kiddie porn

Publishing the title or internet address of child abuse material would constitute distribution of illegal material and is therefore protected from release. To do otherwise would allow a person to view and download the material in jurisdictions where ISP-level filtering was not implemented.

That may well be the case, but the Minister fails to address concerns about due process should a site be added to the list. If there is no access to the list, there is no way to appeal a site being blocked incorrectly. Imagine a commenter leaving a lurid comment or pic on this blog, or a forum, and the site being added to the list based on this one instance. No transparency can only equal unfair and arbitrary justice that remains the hallmark of totalitarian Government.

Selection Criteria

The Minister refers to the National Classification Scheme, a system where by content providers must seek classification of content prior to publication. He then refers to content complaints being made to ACMA, and ACMA making the call on classification. One again the Minister fails to address properly the selection criteria under the scheme: will website owners need to seek classification on content prior to publication? If so, this would be an onerous burden on new media owners and businesses in Australia, costing time, money and putting those businesses at a strict competitive disadvantage compared to overseas operators.

If ACMA will decide on content classification, will they only act on complaints as is currently the process (again the Minister swaps and changes between the current and proposed system). If so, how exactly will the filter know what is acceptable and not acceptable content given the millions of porn sites alone that may fall under the censorship regime.

Likewise, will the filter then decide to block content based on keywords? Could we not see the case, as has happened before that a site about breast cancer is blocked because the filter considers breasts to be pornographic?


The Minister notes that in the last round of tests, overblocking, that is filters blocking legal content came in at 3-6%. He only notes that this is an advance on previous tests, but fails to address the very serious implications.

Under the scheme, three to six percent of perfectly legal content gets blocked. Anything other than a 0% rate is acceptable.

Imagine the Australian Government waking up one morning and deciding that 6% of Australian businesses could no longer open their doors to their customers, and the outcry this would cause. This is EXACTLY what this proposal will do to online businesses, and companies with a primarily Australian focus online could find themselves out of business for no other reason that the Government’s filter has decided to block them, even though they were doing no wrong.


The Minister now states that P2P filtering technology is in the mix, despite its relative infancy. The question then becomes one of “unwanted.” Will the Government now extend the censorship regime to content presumed to be in breach of copyright as well? We can bet with absolute certainty that the Record and Movie Industries already have a letter on the Ministers desk.

Like general filtering, the question then becomes one of identification and process. How does the Government identify “unwanted material” and given that the blacklist or decision process is secret, what happens when content is incorrectly tagged. As we know the music and record industries don’t have a great track record of respecting existing copyright laws when it comes to accusations (for example, the defense of Fair Use, or Fair Trading in Australia).

Further will P2P network speeds be adversely affected for legal traffic?

Internet Speeds

The Minister notes falsely once again that in other countries running ISP filtering using blacklists that there was no discernable decrease in speed, despite noting the tests here proving otherwise.

What the Minister continues to fail to mention is that the countries running blacklists he mentions were running child porn blacklists in some cases on non-compulsory feeds. What the Minister is proposing is far more reaching than anything any of these countries are running, and every time he quotes those figures it’s a lie of context.


While it’s a positive that the Minister has finally spoken on some of the points raised by the Great Firewall of Australia proposal, it’s what he doesn’t answer that makes the proposal even more scary.

The implementation of this scheme can and will take Australia into an elite club of totalitarian societies that value state control over free speech. The Rudd Government seems hell bent on implementing a scheme with no recourse, that may kill legitimate businesses, and slow internet speeds so that Australia can truly take its place as an online backwater in the digital age.

Today I am ashamed to be Australian, ashamed that my Government should seek to implement draconian 19th century style censorship laws over the marvel of the modern age: The Internet. Free Speech may not be totally dead in Australia yet, but it’s about to be placed on life support. Conroy can say all he wants that this isn’t about free speech, but speech censored by Government isn’t free, no matter which way you want to spin it.

Is There a Global Left Wing Conspiracy to Kill the Internet?
Duncan Riley

United Kingdom will soon join Egypt, Iran, China and likely Australia with a regressive internet censorship scheme.

The proposal from British Culture Secretary Andy Burnham includes content ratings for websites and content, television style restrictions on when content can be played (ie violence only after 9pm) and broadening libel laws to make it easier for people to sue.

As with any argument for censorship, it’s always about the children.

“It worries me - like anybody with children,” he says. “Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do. This isn’t about turning the clock back. The internet has been empowering and democratising in many ways but we haven’t yet got the stakes in the ground to help people navigate their way safely around…what can be a very, very complex and quite dangerous world.”
but just for good measure lets sneak in copyright as well…because you know, the billion dollar movie and music businesses are doing it really tough:

However, Mr Burnham said: “If you look back at the people who created the internet they talked very deliberately about creating a space that Governments couldn’t reach. I think we are having to revisit that stuff seriously now. It’s true across the board in terms of content, harmful content, and copyright. Libel is [also] an emerging issue.
But just in case you think it might not affect you, Burnham said that the British Government intends to work with the Obama Administration to make these rules international, at least throughout the anglosphere. I’d also bet that the totalitarian fascist Rudd Regime in Australia will quickly put their hands up to take part as well.

Where do you start in explaining how this is wrong?

Compulsory content rating systems usually involve the submission of content to a Government body for review in a system little understood by those creating content online. The queue to review the content, and the need to block content not rated could easily overnight shift the goalposts to old media and large corporations, killing many in new media and stifling online participation.

The idea of a 9pm for adult content is absurd and would result in many sites simply being blocked, or just going out of business. Besides the onerous and near on impossible task of rating all content, how in the world do you categorize and filter it. Consider that 10 hours of new content is uploaded to YouTube every minute.

The broadening of libel laws would have a chilling effect on free speech online. The law may have issues currently with access, but widening the laws and making them easier to use isn’t a social justice play, it’s a recipe that will encourage a surge in libel cases that would and could result in less speech online.


What I don’t understand is why all of a sudden left wing Governments in the anglosphere have decided to go after the internet. First Australia, then the UK, and possibly the US next (although unlikely, don’t rule it out). Burnham, like Australian Minister for Censorship Stephen Conroy calls the internet a dangerous place. Maybe I’m on another internet?

Here’s what I haven’t accidently viewed today

* Porn
* Violent content, including beheadings
* absolutely anything that isn’t child safe

In 1996 maybe you could have ended up on a porn site by accident, but in 2008 more people visit social networking sites than porn sites, and while porn may only be a Google search away, it’s not exactly popping up all over the place either.

The other thing that confuses me is the use of children as a justification; it doesn’t stack up. I’m actually in favor of ISP’s offering an optional kiddie safe cleanfeed, but ironically, at least in Australia, is that most ISP’s already do offer such a feed…so what’s the real reason?

Could the think of the children line simply be a smokescreen for repression of free speech? After all, I’m not exactly seeing protesters calling for repressive internet censorship anywhere in the world at the moment.

Could it be a play by big media to take back control of news gathering, or the movie and music industry to kill the internet so as to kill piracy (notably Burnham throws piracy into the mix).

And why left wing Governments? And more than one of them….at the same time, out of the blue.

A left wing conspiracy to kill the internet?

I know, far fetched, and a little loopy on the suggestion side, but we’re not getting the whole picture here, and something more than kiddies is driving this.

Content Filtering Pulled from Free Broadband Proposal

Kevin Martin, Chairman of the FCC, has dropped the content filtering provisions from the proposal for free wireless broadband service, according to an interview with Ars Technica. Previous drafts of the plan required protection methods to prevent users from accessing objectionable content such as pornography. "I'm saying if this is a problem for people, let's take it away," Martin said.

The proposal has received criticism and opposition from a variety of groups including the Bush administration, wireless companies, and consumer interest organizations. T-Mobile has argued that communicating data on the allocated frequency bands will cause interference and quality degradation. Civil liberties groups argue that the FCC would overstep its authority and violate the constitution.

"A lot of public interest advocates have said they would support this, but we're concerned about the filter," Martin noted. "Well, now there's an item in front of the Commissioners and it no longer has the filter." Although the change is unlikely to reduce the flak coming from mobile carriers, many of the other opposing parties could turn around and support the proposal.

The plan centers around part of the Advanced Wireless Services 3 band (2155MHz to 2180MHz) to be auctioned in 2009. The winning bidder would be required to create a free basic broadband service at a minimum speed of 768Kbps, with half of the US covered after four years and 95 percent included after ten years.

FCC Chair Nixes MPAA Bid for Selectable Output Control
Matthew Lasar

The holidays have been good for Hollywood, Reuters news reports, with sentimental pooch stories like Marley & Me boosting box office Christmas day receipts up $10 million from last year. But there's a lump of coal in the movie industry's stocking where its advocates had hoped for a gift from the Federal Communications Commission. FCC Chair Kevin Martin says he won't back the Motion Picture Association of America's request for a waiver on the agency's ban on selectively blocking video outputs.

"I'm not supportive of moving forward with this MPAA proposal at this time," Martin told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday. When Ars asked if the issue is now tabled for the Obama administration's FCC, the outgoing boss replied in the affirmative. "If another Commission" wants to deal with the question, "they will be able to, obviously, but I'm not supportive of it," he said.

We need protection

As Ars has reported, in early June the MPAA filed a request for FCC permission to work with cable and satellite video providers in order to hobble analog output of pre-DVD release movies in favor of "secure and protected digital outputs." Current agency policy forbids so-called "selectable output control" use limiting either analog or digital transmission.

MPAA argues that analog streams are insecure. They "either lack, or can easily be stripped of, protection measures," in the organization's words, and broadcast over them will "facilitate the illegal copying and redistribution of this high value content, causing untold damage to the DVD and other 'downstream' markets."

The MPAA contends that relaxing SOC rules will allow the studios to release movies over cable and satellite prior to their DVD release without fear of copyright infringement. "At least some segment of nearly every demographic would find this option attractive when unable to go to the movie theater," the trade group's Petition for Expedited Special Relief contended. "For example, physically challenged or elderly consumers who have limited mobility would have greater choice in movie viewing options. It would similarly benefit parents who want to see a new movie, but who cannot find or afford a babysitter."

MPAA filed the request on behalf of Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios, Walt Disney Studios, and Warner Brothers.

But critics of the proposal say that consumers have the right to expect that their video-related devices will function as they did when they purchased them. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the advocacy group Public Knowledge—which seems to have Martin's ear these days—have argued that millions of applications could be affected by changing the FCC's SOC policy.

"The MPAA has not demonstrated why it should be permitted to disable the features and functionality of a consumer's lawfully-purchased HDTV set," three CEA Vice Presidents told the FCC in November.

Public Knowledge filed around the same time and argued that the disability count could get higher if you include DVRs "and other consumer electronics devices that rely on analog connections." These also will be "effectively turned off, even if the TVs also have digital inputs."

MPAA has responded that SOC's detractors are living in the past. "At its core, the position of CEA is that technology should be frozen in time, and any new services that require advanced technology should be banned," the MPAA told Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein on November 25. "This position is quite astonishing, coming from an organization that in the past has advocated in favor of technological innovation."

Martin says that initially he was sympathetic to MPAA's arguments. "I certainly am interested in taking advantage of technologies that would allow for consumers to be able to watch first run movies in their home, earlier," he explained. But in the end it looks like PK won the argument.

"One of the issues that I certainly have pushed when I've been here at the Commission is that we should be able to have devices and they should should be able to be portable from network to network," Martin elaborated at today's conference. He cited the open device requirements in the recent 700MHz auction, wireless merger approvals, and set top box rule enforcements.

"And I don't want to undermine any progress that we've tried to make on that. I was concerned about that and wasn't ready to move forward with it in light of some of the concerns that were raised by the public interest groups."

The rest of today's press event focused on a variety of FCC-related loose ends that await Martin's successor. These include re-auctioning the agency's proposed public safety D Block, reform of the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation rules, dealing with proposed fines against retailers for selling analog-only TVs without full disclosure, and resolving various cable carriage disputes—most notably the carriage fight between Comcast and the NFL Network.

The agency could conceivably deal with some of these questions in the next few weeks, but that's not likely given the departure of Republican Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, which was announced at a brief Commission meeting held Tuesday morning.

LG Blu-Ray Box to Offer CinemaNow, YouTube Videos
Marguerite Reardon

LG Electronics will add video streaming features from CinemaNow and YouTube to its 2009 lineup of networked Blu-ray players, the company said Tuesday.

The company will be showing off the new functionality at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next week in Las Vegas.

LG launched its first network-connected Blu-ray player in July with partner Netflix. As part of the deal, viewers get access to more than 12,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix.

With Tuesday's announcement, LG Blu-ray customers will also get access to 14,000 movies and TV shows from CinemaNow. And they will be able to stream millions of Web videos directly from the Internet to an LG Network Blu-ray Player so they can watch it on their TVs.

The current economic slump is driving some consumers to cancel expensive cable or satellite TV packages and look for video content online. LG believes it can capitalize on this trend by making it easier for consumers to find entertainment online that can be viewed on their TVs.

"As millions of U.S. consumers view and download movies or TV shows through the Internet, they are demanding easier ways to access content and more home entertainment options," Tim Alessi, director of product development for LG Electronics USA, said in a statement. "From Blu-ray to instant streaming from Netflix to CinemaNow and YouTube, LG is bridging the gap between packaged media and video-on-demand services to provide entertainment solutions for consumers' demand for content."

Adobe’s Flash and Apple’s Safari Fail a Privacy Test
Brad Stone

In the new browser war, privacy is a crucial battleground.

Mozilla’s Firefox, Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari all compete to give users the most control over their online identities and the best protection from Web sites that use “cookies,” those unique identifiers that can track users online.

So how effective are the newest batch of browser privacy tools? Kate McKinley, a researcher at iSec Partners, a San Francisco security firm, sought to find out.

In a paper published Tuesday, Ms. McKinley found particular problems with Safari and concluded that none of the four major browsers extends its privacy protections to Adobe’s immensely popular Flash plug-in, which is used to display Web animations and video.

Apple’s Safari fared the worst of the browsers in Ms. McKinley’s tests. When used in “private browsing mode” on a Macintosh running OS X, Safari was “quirky,” Ms. McKinley wrote, accessing some of the cookies previously stored on her computer, but not others. When used on a machine running Windows XP, Safari’s private browsing mode was not private at all -– it accessed previously set cookies and did not delete any new ones.

Of course, relatively few people use Apple’s Safari on a PC running Microsoft Windows. The problem with Adobe’s Flash software is a bigger issue, since 99 percent of Web surfers use the software, which drops its own separate cookies on people’s computers.

Sites such as MySpace, Hulu.com, CrateandBarrel.com and Amazon.com all use Flash cookies to record some kind of information about their users.

Ms. McKinley found that this information cannot be deleted by average users in the browser privacy settings, should they wish to do so. “Flash elevates the interest of developers over the interest of the end user,” she said.

Emmy Huang, group product manager for the Adobe Flash Player, noted in an e-mail that there is a separate process for deleting Flash cookies, which is described in this somewhat arcane document. She conceded that this may not be clear to most Internet users.

“It is accurate to say that the privacy settings people make with regards to their browser activities are not immediately reflected in Flash Player,” Ms. Huang wrote. “Still, privacy choices people make for their browsers aren’t more difficult to do in Flash Player, and deleting cookies recorded by Flash Player isn’t a more difficult process than deleting browser cookies. However, it is a different process and people may not know it is available.”

She added that Adobe is working with the browser makers on combining privacy settings for the browser and Flash to make it easier for users to manage their settings.

Note: If you’d care to toss your Flash cookies immediately, go here – Jack.

Consumers Union to Buy Gawker Blog Consumerist
Stephanie Clifford

Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, planned to announce on Wednesday that it had acquired Consumerist.com, a popular blog formerly owned by Gawker Media.

Consumerist is one of several sites Gawker has sold this year, including the political gossip blog Wonkette and the travel site Gridskipper. The blog offers consumer tips, like how to return products and how to confound a telemarketer, and covers shopper complaints, like excessive retail markups.

It will become part of a new division of Consumers Union, and the current editors will remain. No plans are under way to change the coverage or to begin charging for the site. “We don’t want to acquire the Consumerist and then squelch it in some way,” said Kevin McKean, vice president and editorial director of Consumers Union.

The founder and president of Gawker Media, Nick Denton, put Consumerist on sale in mid-November, the same day he announced that he was closing Valleywag, a site focused on technology in Silicon Valley.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Denton said he was also in talks to sell Defamer, a show business gossip site, but he said he had no plans to sell other sites, which include the media sites Gawker and Jezebel.

Mr. Denton said the troublesome advertising market had led to the sale of Consumerist. In November, he posted a prediction that online advertising — which is how he supports his sites — would decline sharply next year. “I think people have generally been too optimistic” about online ads, he said Tuesday.

In buying Consumerist, Consumers Union is seeking to attract younger readers, with the hope of eventually selling them online or print subscriptions to Consumer Reports.

It is also something of a logical fit. Consumerist is popular, with about 1.8 million unique visitors a month, according to the online measurement service Quantcast, but has had trouble attracting advertising because the site often criticizes companies. Consumer Reports does not accept advertising, and once the sale closes on Jan. 1, neither will Consumerist.

Unlike most magazines, Consumer Reports makes its money from subscriptions, which cost $26 for the Web site or print edition. In the company’s last fiscal year, which ended May 31, it had $229 million in revenue — up 10.6 percent from the previous year — from Consumer Reports and a handful of smaller magazines.

In a year that has been difficult for magazines, Consumer Reports’ subscription and newsstand sales have risen. Circulation was 4.6 million, up from 4.3 million in 2007. The Web site has 3.3 million subscribers.

However, the average age of a print subscriber is 60, and the average ConsumerReports.org subscriber is 50. About 76 percent of Consumerist’s readers are 18 to 49, according to Quantcast.

Consumerist’s voice is younger, too: contributors write in the arch tone that is a hallmark of Gawker sites. But Consumers Union’s executive vice president, John Sateja, said that was not at odds with the more serious voice of Consumer Reports.

“When Consumers Union was formed, it was a pretty snarky, aggressive organization that took on big organizations just like Consumerist is doing today; it’s just going to an audience that we basically don’t reach,” Mr. Sateja said. “It may not be language, or voice or style that Consumers Union has, in recent years, become accustomed to, but it is part of the roots of the organization.”

The old-media and new-media worlds have clashed over not only editorial voice, but also editorial process. Most print magazines have strict fact-checking and sourcing policies, while blogs tend to be more lax.

Mr. McKean said Consumerist would function much as it had, but with support from Consumer Reports. “If they have something they’re doing where they say, ‘Gee, I’d really like to have a fact checker give this a second look,’ ” he said, “the fact checkers will jump right on it and do it.”

The editor of Consumerist, Ben Popken, will become co-executive editor of the site, sharing the title with its current senior editor, Meghann Marco. Mr. Popken said that two Consumerist contributors who had been laid off this year, Chris Walters and Carey Greenberg-Berger, would resume blogging in January.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The sale is expected to close on Thursday.

Sex Offenders Must Hand Over Online Passwords

Privacy advocates are questioning the aggressive new Georgia law

Privacy advocates are questioning an aggressive Georgia law set to take effect Thursday that would require sex offenders to hand over Internet passwords, screen names and e-mail addresses.

Georgia joins a small band of states complying with guidelines in a 2006 federal law requiring authorities to track Internet addresses of sex offenders, but it is among the first to take the extra step of forcing its 16,000 offenders to turn in their passwords as well.

A federal judge ruled in September that a similar law in Utah violated the privacy rights of an offender who challenged it, though the narrow ruling applied only to one offender who had a military conviction on sex offenses but was never in Utah's court or prison system.

Critics worry about privacy
No one in Georgia has challenged the law yet, but critics say it threatens the privacy of sex offenders and burdens cash-strapped law enforcement officials.

"There's certainly a privacy concern," said Sara Totonchi of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. "This essentially will give law enforcement the ability to read e-mails between family members, between employers."

State Sen. Cecil Staton, who wrote the bill, said the measure is designed to keep the Internet safe for children. Authorities could use the passwords and other information to make sure offenders aren't stalking children online or chatting with them about off-limits topics.

Staton said although the measure may violate the privacy of sex offenders, the need to protect children "outweighs a lot of the rights of these individuals."

"We limit where they can live, we make their information available on the Internet. To some degree, we do invade their privacy," said Staton, a Republican from Macon. "But the feeling is, they have forfeited, to some degree, some privacy rights."

Most states already make the addresses of sex offenders available online. Georgia is one of at least 15 states that have adopted laws requiring sex offenders to detail their e-mail addresses, user names and other Internet handles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Password requirements in two states
But researcher Sarah Hammond said Georgia and Utah appear to be the only states that require sex offenders to also hand over their passwords.

The new requirements are far from watertight. While offenders who don't report their user names and passwords could face probation violations — and possibly a return to prison — supporters admit it isn't hard to skirt the law's requirements.

"My hunch is, where there's a will, there's a way," Staton said. "If people are intent on violating this law, there are many different ways. What's important is we have given law enforcement a tool."

For offenders like Kelly Piercy, convicted of child pornography charges in 1999, the password requirement is the latest example of "pre-emptive justice."

Piercy, who suffers from a degenerative disease that has left him blind, said he already struggles to keep track of the roughly dozen screen names he has created, and he doubts deputies would have much sympathy for him if he forgets to report one.

"I made a mistake and I need to pay for it. And I did. But now we're the target of pre-emptive justice — and that concerns me," he said. "How much further down the road can sex offenders be chased?"

Films Reach Theaters a Drib Here, Drab There
Michael Cieply

Nearly a month ago, the University of Wisconsin’s Badger Herald gave a rave to Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon,” calling it a “masterpiece that excels in all three areas of film’s holy trinity of acting, directing and writing.”

Maybe so. But if folks in Madison, Wis., were looking for a movie last weekend, they would have had more luck with the 2:45 matinee of “Bolt.”

“Frost/Nixon,” described far and wide as a favorite in the Oscar race, has yet to open in midsize cities with audiences as sophisticated as those in Madison, New Orleans or Tulsa, Okla.

Instead, Universal Pictures put the film in just three theaters on Dec. 5.

A week later “Frost/Nixon” slipped into three dozen more spots. It finally opened last weekend in 205 locations in the nation’s top 50 markets. But that was still fewer than half the number that played Mr. Howard’s Oscar-winning movie “A Beautiful Mind,” in what was viewed as a cautious debut when it was released in 2001.

This year’s movie awards season has played out like Oscar night at Minsky’s. At least a dozen of the supposedly hottest contenders — among them “The Wrestler,” from Fox Searchlight; “Milk,” from Focus Features; and “Revolutionary Road,” from Paramount Vantage and DreamWorks — are being teased out to the public in peekaboo release patterns.

That approach became especially common this year, as studios held many of their more serious movies until after the election. They then found themselves crowding into a marketplace that made a slow rollout look like the safest pattern even for some films, like “Frost/Nixon,” with big studios behind them. That sort of release is meant to build anticipation, by trading on good reviews and accumulating nominations from bellwether awards like the Golden Globes. It also allows a studio to hold back its big advertising buys until the audience is really ready to connect. But it can frustrate potential viewers who have been bombarded with information about movies they still cannot see.

“I’m surprised we don’t have ‘Revolutionary Road’; we usually do pretty well here,” said Sam Stephenson, a film buff and an instructor at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, N.C.

Though it features Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, “Revolutionary Road” was in just three theaters last weekend. Similarly, Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of a beaten-up battler in “The Wrestler,” the talk of the Toronto International Film Festival in September, had yet to play in more than about 15 locations as of last weekend.

Four years ago Warner Brothers unveiled “Million Dollar Baby,” which eventually won the best picture Oscar along with a directing award for Clint Eastwood, in an excruciatingly slow release that began with eight theaters in mid-December and did not reach most of the country until six weeks later.

The studio this year has dribbled out Mr. Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” — starting with just six theaters on Dec. 12, and fewer than a hundred by Christmas — even while widespread publicity has piqued the curiosity of an audience that will be largely unable to see the film until it moves to still more theaters on Jan. 9.

“You should see my e-mails,” Dan Fellman, Warner’s theatrical distribution president, said recently of the inevitable response by would-be viewers, many of whom find it hard to accept that New Yorkers and Angelenos should spend weeks with a big-star movie before it gets to their hometown malls.

With “Frost/Nixon,” perhaps the most heavily promoted of the season’s trickling releases, Universal’s plan is to reach more screens when and if the movie picks up awards at the Golden Globes on Jan. 11, or Oscar nominations on Jan. 22.

The film has moved slowly because its appeal is more dependent on reviews and awards than the drawing power of its stars, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. “This was a passion project,” said Adam Fogelson, Universal’s president for marketing and distribution.

That a certain number of people may be wondering where the movie is does not worry Mr. Fogelson. “If people are interested enough to ask those questions now, I suspect they’ll be interested when we bring it to the wider market,” he said in a telephone interview on Friday.

Still, some films are disappearing even before a slightly confused audience can find them.

For instance, Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York,” released in nine theaters in October by Sony Pictures Classics, expanded briefly to 119 locations, and then the number dwindled.

John Muller, a Yale Law School student who comes from Santa Monica, Calif., was hearing a lot about the film, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, weeks ago and went looking for it in the New Haven area, to no avail.

“I guess I’m spoiled, because I’m from Los Angeles,” Mr. Muller said Friday. “I expect films to come out when they say they’re coming out.”

The Facebook Virus Spreads: No Social Network is Safe
Sarah Perez

"Koobface" is the name of the Trojan worm that's been making its way through the social networking site Facebook lately, but to the site's users, it's been simply known as "the Facebook virus." That name will soon become a misnomer, though, because the worm is now spreading outside of Facebook's walls to attack other social networks like Bebo, MySpace, Friendster, MyYearbook, and Blackplanet.

About Koobface

Once a computer has become infected with the Kooface worm, it spams the friends belonging to the owner of the computer by leaving comments on their profiles. Those comments appear to come from the infected user, saying things like "Are you sure this is your first acting experience?", "is it u there?", "impressive. i'm sure it's you on this video", "How can anyone get so busted by a spy camera?" and "You're the whole show! i'm admired with you." Save for that last one, whose bad English will likely raise a flag that all is not what it seems, the other comments appeal to people's vanity. They wonder: is that really a video of me? and then click through on the link provided.

The link actually takes them to an off-site page which pretends to offer a video download from "YuoTube," but then stalls saying that you'll need a new version of Adobe's Flash Player installed in order to continue. Of course, if you click the button to proceed with the install, you're infected. Infected users are then directed to even more contaminated web sites when they try to use search engines, which puts them at risk of identity theft, among other things. "Search terms are directed to find-www.net," said McAfee's Craig Schmugar, and that "enables ad hijacking and click fraud."

Social Networks Will Be the New Breeding Ground for Viruses

Koobface may not be the first bit of malware to hit the social networks, but it has become so widespread that it now accounts for one percent of ScanSafe's blocked malware, said ScanSafe senior security researcher Mary Landesman. (Facebook will not disclose how many members are infected.)

What's frightening about the spread of this Trojan is not the worm itself - it's really nothing new in terms of malware - but the way its being spread. Over the years people have learned to be suspicious of unknown links and attachments in their emails, so the virus writers turned to hit us where we're more vulnerable: on our social networks. Here, many people still have a feeling of comfort and security. They don't always have their guard up.

According to Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, "a key factor which helps social-networking spam and malware succeed is that people are more prepared to click on a link or message if they believe it is from someone they know. The average person is used to receiving unsolicited e-mails in their regular inbox, but believe messages have more credence when they arrive via Facebook. The message is clear -- people need to beware."

Cluley also warns that the situation is going to get worse next year. There will be more attacks and they will become more sophisticated. "It will probably take a long time before the general public begins to learn that hackers and scammers are using the system for their own ends."

How To Protect Yourself From Koobface

Besides doing the obvious - running an up-to-date antivirus, security patches, and firewalls - you should be on the look out for the following:

A sample spam message:

The malicious site:

The warning message:

You should also keep an eye on Facebook's security page (http://www.facebook.com/security) which warns of the latest threats.

What Will Go Wrong in 2009
Bob Sullivan

At 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 2, hackers pulled off what might have been the perfect computer crime. You can expect a host of imitators during 2009.

Beginning early that morning and continuing for nine hours, customers who visited MyCheckFree.com to pay bills made an unexpected visit to computer servers in the Ukraine. The customers did nothing wrong; many followed a bookmark or even typed in the Web address manually, as security experts advise. And Checkfree didn't do anything wrong either. The company's computers weren't hacked.

Instead, criminals hijacked all traffic headed for the bill-paying service by tricking the Internet's domain name server system, which links common Web site names like msnbc.com to their numeric equivalents.
Checkfree had to send out notices to 5 million customers indicating they might have been victims of identity theft, though the number of visitors actually affected by the scam was probably closer to 160,000, according to the Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection.

If you're wondering what computer headaches you should expect in 2009, the Checkfree attack should be high on your list, says Amit Klein, a domain name system expert at The Trusteer Security Research Group. He compared the attack to a phishing attack on steroids, and said it will probably keep security professionals up late at night. None of their fancy security tools can ward off complete interception of traffic headed to a Web site.

"(This attack) can bypass sophisticated network, authentication and end point security mechanisms," Klein said. “It is likely to become more common (next year).”

Once again, 2008 failed to bring a virus that brought the computer world to its knees. In fact, it's hard to imagine a worldwide attack on software that would have the impact of the notorious Melissa or LoveBug viruses, which stopped so many PCs that they created the equivalent of a snow day for office workers.

Targeted attacks and cell phones

The Checkfree attack serves as reminder that computer criminals favor small, targeted, profitable attacks over loud, obnoxious ones. You don't hear much anymore about "bot networks," those armies of hijacked home computers that made headlines two years ago. But experts still believe millions of home PCs are enslaved by criminal software. As evidence, they point to the continued nuisance of spam, which represents about 81 percent of all e-mail and mostly originates on hijacked PCs, according to spam-fighting firm MessageLabs.

Even the latest hacker fad -- attacks on social networking sites like Facebook – is designed to quietly gather personal information rather than noisily destroy Web sites.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying we'll never have another computer virus epidemic. The next big nemesis, many security experts say, will not be a virus that slays personal computers, but one that wreaks havoc with your cell phone.

For years, technology writers have penned stories predicting that the coming year will be the one in which an ominous mobile worm that destroys handsets, calls all your friends and hacks into e-wallets to purchase thousands of cans of Coke from e-pay enabled vending machines in Japan.

All these things will happen. Smartphones will one day meet their match in the virus writing community. But I'm going to side with security researcher Vincent Weafer of Symantec, who proved to have a clear crystal ball a year ago when predicting the rise of Facebook-style attacks, and say that a mobile virus epidemic this year is unlikely.

Weafer thinks a killer smartphone virus is still a ways off, particularly because smartphones still account for just 11 percent of the cellular phone market, according to research firm Gartner. He reasons that virus writers won't focus their attention on cell phones until they believe they can knock a significant portion of them offline with a single worm.

More to the point, Weafer said, mobile phone attacks won't really take off until mobile banking takes off. Criminals go where the money is. And in countries like Brazil and China, where many viruses now originate, mobile banking is still several years off.

Other mobile phone features are ripe for attack, however. Weafer warned that authentication tools like password reminders are vulnerable. Many firms now send password resets or PIN codes through text messaging to telephones. It's generally considered safe for a Web site to send a password reminder to a cell phone number stored when customers sign up, a technique that's called "out of band" authentication. But criminals have caught on to that vulnerability and are hard at work looking to intercept such messages.

Coming Next Year

In addition to flying PINs, what should you watch out for next year to stay cybersafe? The Checkfree incident points to a larger problem:

There are new reasons not to trust the Web sites you visit. Getting a virus by clicking on an infected attachment is now passé; if your computer gets sick next year, it will probably be because you visited a booby-trapped Web site.

The Checkfree attack is just one way that criminals can take advantage of well-known brand names to attack your computer. Thanks to the proliferation of Web 2.0 services, which increasingly rely on third-party content that is “sucked” into traditional sites, there are new ways for criminals to place corrupt code on otherwise trustworthy pages. Attackers have spent the better part of this year finding vulnerabilities in Web software so viruses can be injected onto Web servers, so that you'll download them even if you only visit sites you trust.

Right before Christmas, Microsoft had to rush out a patch for a vulnerability in Internet Explorer that allowed just such an attack. The firm said that 1 in 500 Net users were exposed to the flaw during its first week of exploitation.

Mary Landesman, a virus expert at the ScanSafe security firm, said Web-delivered malicious software exploded at the end of 2008 -- in fact, more viruses were delivered this way in October than the entire year of 2007. As in the heyday of e-mail worms, she thinks Web-delivered viruses may get “out of control” during 2009 before companies reign them in. Unfortunately, in some cases the cure may be worse that the disease.

Most Web sites rely on third-party firms to place ads on their sites, and Landesman expects frustrated software designers will begin blocking all third-party connections or scripting to stop viruses.

To stay safe, Internet users must know that Web sites -- even trusted ones -- have the potential to infect their computers under certain circumstances. That means it is more important than ever to run up-to-date security software and to download the necessary patches. It's also important to know which sites the kids are visiting, as Web site attacks are more common on less popular sites like music download haunts and second-tier game sites. Users might consider turning off scripting capabilities in their Web browsers, but that means many popular Web sites won’t work properly.

Criminals are becoming much more precise with identity theft-related scams. By now, it seems absurd that anyone would fall for a traditional Nigerian scam promising riches from a recently-deposed royal family. But Weafer, the Symantec expert, said con artists are compiling databases of information that allow them to personalize attacks in believable ways. New Nigerian scams come bearing the recipient's first name, perhaps their hometown and in some cases, allude to other personal information such as family members?

Where does this information come from? It's easily gleaned from social networking sites like Facebook.

"What we're talking about is much more like data mining," Weafer said. In the underground data trade, criminals now pay much more for data sets that include geographic location or employment information, Weafer said.

Criminals are using social networking sites to trick "Forgot your password?" features on many Web sites. By gleaning information such as victim's pet names, school affiliations and middle names, criminals can sometimes pass the "question" challenges provided by sites to authorize password retrievals. Then, they get their hands on login information for private e-mail, corporate networks and even online banking.

Cybercriminals will continue to hit people where they are most vulnerable, targeting the recently unemployed. Security firm McAfee warned in November that work-at-home scams have skyrocketed. Scams that offer to help victims file for unemployment benefits -- tricking them into paying for something that should be free -- also have risen.

Finally, expect more lost and stolen data next year. The year 2008 brought remarkable data breaches and thefts, including 4 million credit cards exposed to hackers by grocery chain Hannaford Brother, announced in March; 12 million customer identities lost on a backup tape by Bank of New York Mellon in March; 3.4 million motor vehicle records transmitted online by the Colorado motor vehicle department; millions of birthdays inadvertently exposed by Facebook; and 2 million identities stolen by a former Countrywide Financial employee. There’s no reason to believe that depressing trend won’t continue.

Apple Shares Turn Negative on Jobs "Rumor"

Shares of Apple Inc fell as much as 2 percent on Tuesday after technology website Gizmodo reported a "rumor" that Chief Executive Steve Jobs's health was declining.

A spokesman for Apple declined to comment on the rumor.

When asked about Jobs's health, the spokesman said "if ever Steve or the board of directors decided that he was no longer capable of doing his job as CEO of Apple, I'm sure they will let you know."

Gizmodo quoted a "solid source," which it did not identify, as saying that Jobs's "rapidly declining" health was the real reason behind his decision to cancel a keynote speech at next week's MacWorld conference. It titled the report "rumor."

Apple shares had been trading up 1.5 percent at $87.92 before moving sharply lower. The stock then recovered to trade down about half a percent at $86.15 by mid-afternoon.

"The main reason why Apple shares have sold off midday is that a website reported that Steve Jobs health is getting worse, citing an unidentified source," said William Lefkowitz, an options strategist at brokerage firm vFinance Investments.

"However, this is not the first time Steve Jobs health has come into question. In the past, this has created large fluctuations in Apple stock," he said.

(Reporting by Doris Frankel in Chicago and Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; Editing by Bernard Orr)

30GB Zunes Failing Everywhere, All At Once
John Herrman

Right, so this is a weird one: we're getting tons of reports—tons—about failing Zune 30s. Apparently, the players began freezing at about midnight last night, becoming totally unresponsive and practically useless.

The crisis has been dubbed by Zune users 'Z2K9', due to the apparently synchronized faceplantings across the country. According to tipster Michael, the Zune users experienced something like this:

Apparently, around 2:00 AM today, the Zune models either reset, or were already off. Upon when turning on, the thing loads up and... freezes with a full loading bar (as pictured above). I thought my brother was the only one with it, but then it happened to my Zune. Then I checked out the forums and it seems everyone with a 30GB HDD model has had this happen to them
This report is consistently corroborated by literally hundreds of others across the various Zune support and fan forums.

What hasn't emerged yet, largely due to the fact that MS's support lines aren't yet open for the day, is why these devices are failing. The evidence seems to point to a software glitch, but simple resets aren't providing any relief. Some reports indicate that only Zunes with the latest firmware are affected, but this hasn't yet been confirmed.

The proximity of the events to the New Year, which inspired the Y2K9 moniker, provides little more than a colorful backdrop; it's unlikely that the switching of years in the Zune's internal calendar has anything to do with the failures (besides, it hasn't even happened yet).

If not for the uniform representation of events across the internet, I'd be tempted to suspect this as a hoax, but it just doesn't look that way. The story, assuming the described problem is of the magnitude reported, will probably take a turn for the large when the majority of Zuners start waking up. Let us know about your experiences in the comments. [Zunescene, ZuneBoards, Zune.net—Thanks, Michael, Josh, Ben and others]

A Year Ticks Over, and Zunes Get Hiccups
Jenna Wortham

It has been nine years since the Y2K computer glitch inspired apocalyptic fears. On Wednesday, another time-related bug created its own small-scale panic. For some owners of the Zune, the portable media player that is Microsoft’s answer to the Apple iPod, it was a day without Kanye West and Girl Talk.

Owners of 30-gigabyte Zunes began flooding Zune-related Web sites with complaints early Wednesday morning. They said their players had suddenly stopped working, displaying only a frozen start-up screen.

After spending much of the day digging into the problem, Microsoft said that it had traced it to a software bug “related to the way the device handles a leap year.” Apparently the Zune was expecting 2008 to have 365 days, not 366.

The fix for the glitch? Patience. The company said the internal clock on the players should reset itself at 7 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday. Microsoft advised Zune owners to drain the battery and then turn the players back on after that time. Those who were hoping to provide the soundtrack to New Year’s Eve parties had no choice but to find a friend with an iPod.

Some Zune owners, like Geoffry Houze, a 53-year-old entrepreneur in Las Vegas, were frustrated by the breakdown. “It’s inexcusable,” Mr. Houze said. “It’s surprising that Microsoft wouldn’t have been aware of something like this. They’re fortunate the problem will resolve itself. They dodged a very large truck here.”

Microsoft has had trouble getting traction for the Zune against the iPod, which dominates the portable player market. It says North American sales of all Zune devices topped three million units in November, but it would not say how many of those were 30-gigabyte models.

The end-of-year timing led some Zune owners to call the problem “Z2K9.” To some it offered a quick reminder of how daily life is full of highly complex systems that sometimes behave in unpredictable ways.

“Sure, a Zune breaks and no one cares. No one is really affected,” said Peter Neumann, a security expert and principal scientist at SRI International, a nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. “But if this were to happen on a much larger scale, in a life-critical situation like with a defense system or even a shuttle system, it would be a serious problem.”

Another big Microsoft venture into hardware, the Xbox 360 video gaming console, has had its own share of breakdowns, the result of a manufacturing flaw. The company has offered to fix faulty machines free of charge, and it set aside a reported $1.1 billion for the repairs.

Zune fans are hoping that the player won’t be quite as troublesome. Microsoft plans to release an update for the player’s internal software so the problem won’t resurface during the next leap year in 2012.

On a more encouraging note, the various versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system, which power PCs in millions of homes and corporate cubicles, appear to have made it through the last day of 2008 just fine.

Online Holiday Sales Fall 3 Percent

Online sales for the holiday period up to December 23 fell 3 percent from the same period last year, marking the first decline in online spending since comScore Inc started tracking online sales in 2001.

Online spending reached $25.5 billion between November 1 and December 23, the company said, noting this was below its expectations for flat sales on the same period a year ago.

Apple Inc and Amazon.com were among the top traffic gainers in an overall bleak period, comScore said.

Apple sites attracted 35 million visitors between December 1 and December 24, up 19 percent from a year ago, while Amazon sites drew 76.2 million visitors over the same period, 7 percent more than a year ago. Wal-Mart also saw its website traffic rise by 4 percent to a total of 51.5 million visitors.

Online auction site eBay Inc was the most visited retail site with 85.4 million visitors but its traffic declined 4 percent.

Electronics retailer Circuit City, which filed for bankruptcy, saw traffic fall off by 21 percent to 15.5 visitors.

A combination of five fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the recession made the season particularly tough for retailers, Gian Fulgoni, comScore chairman, said in a statement Tuesday.

(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Gary Hill)

Popeye the Sailor Copyright Free 70 Years After Elzie Segar's Death

Popeye generates about £1.5 billion in annual sales
Adam Sherwin

“I yam what I yam,” declared Popeye. And just what that is is likely to become less clear as the copyright expires on the character who generates about £1.5 billion in annual sales.

From January 1, the iconic sailor falls into the public domain in Britain under an EU law that restricts the rights of authors to 70 years after their death. Elzie Segar, the Illinois artist who created Popeye, his love interest Olive Oyl and nemesis Bluto, died in 1938.

The Popeye industry stretches from books, toys and action figures to computer games, a fast-food chain and the inevitable canned spinach.

The copyright expiry means that, from Thursday, anyone can print and sell Popeye posters, T-shirts and even create new comic strips, without the need for authorisation or to make royalty payments.

Popeye became a Depression-era hero soon after he first appeared in the 1929 comic strip, Thimble Theatre. Segar drew Popeye as a “working-class Joe” who suffered torment from Bluto — sometimes known as Brutus — until he “can't stands it no more”. Wolfing down spinach turned Popeye into a pumped-up everyman hero, making the case for good over evil.

Popeye the Sailor made his screen debut in 1933. According to a poll of cinema managers, he was more popular than Mickey Mouse by the end of the Thirties.

During wartime, the Popeye tattoo was etched on thousands of soldiers and sailors, who aligned themselves with his good-hearted belligerence.

The question of whether any enterprising food company can now attach Popeye's famous face to their spinach cans will have to be tested in court.

While the copyright is about to expire inside the EU, the character is protected in the US until 2024. US law protects a work for 95 years after its initial copyright.

The Popeye trademark, a separate entity to Segar's authorial copyright, is owned by King Features, a subsidiary of the Hearst Corporation — the US entertainment giant — which is expected to protect its brand aggressively.

Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at the law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said: “The Segar drawings are out of copyright, so anyone could put those on T-shirts, posters and cards and create a thriving business. If you sold a Popeye toy or Popeye spinach can, you could be infringing the trademark.”

Mr Owen added: “Popeye is one of the first of the famous 20th-century cartoon characters to fall out of copyright. Betty Boop and ultimately Mickey Mouse will follow.”

Segar's premature death, aged 43, means that Popeye is an early test case for cartoon characters. The earliest Mickey Mouse cartoons will not fall into the US public domain until at least 2023 after the Disney corporation successfully lobbied Congress for a copyright extension.

Sailor and spinach

— Popeye was added to the Thimble Theatre Olive Oyl strip in January 1929

— Elzie Segar was told to tone down Popeye’s aggression as it was a bad influence on children

— Though it is a myth that he was coopted to promote spinach by the US Government, spinach sales in America rose by a third in the decade after his appearance. A tie-in Popeye Spinach brand is one of the most popular in the US

— Popeye was the first cartoon character commemorated by a statue, in 1937 in Crystal City, Texas, the self-proclaimed Spinach Capital of the World

— Popeye animations, cartoon strips and merchandising generated $150 million a year by the 1970s

— The Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits chain was named after Popeye Doyle from The French Connection film. It now endorses the cartoon character

— The burger-loving J. Wellington Wimpy character gave his name to the Wimpy restaurant chain


Tokyo’s Lab for Musicians
Nicholas Vroman

SHIBUI is Japanese youth-speak for things that are at once cool, funky and traditional. And these days, few things are as shibui as Koenji, a neighborhood on Tokyo’s west side, considered the birthplace of Japanese punk rock.

In recent years, this low-rise area of traditional izakaya bars and narrow alleys has spawned a new music scene that knits together every musical style imaginable — American roots, Showa Era jazz and even enka, the sentimental pop music of postwar Japan — in a way that is distinctly Japanese. It’s a laboratory for musicians honing their own creative voices, independent of the slickly produced pop standards that dominate the Tokyo club scene.

On most nights, under the glow of neon lights and air thick with meaty smoke billowing from yakitori joints, the atmosphere is electric. And acoustic as well: a lot of 20-somethings seem to be carrying guitars. To hear this new sound, duck into the myriad watering holes honeycombed near the Koenji station, a stop along the Chuo line, running into the heart of Tokyo.

For a crash course on shibui, head to Moon Stomp (Koenji Kita 2-22-6; 81-3-3310-6996; www.bighitcompany.com/moonstomp), a basement club jammed next to a reggae bar. Cluttered with musical instruments, it’s the kind of place where you have to wait for the band to take a break before you can cross the stage to use the bathroom.

On a recent Friday night, an intergenerational crowd gathered to hear Kaurismaki, a gypsy-jazz-tango ensemble named for a Finnish filmmaker, and Merry Chan, who plays Japanized Latin and calypso. The fashion was as eclectic as the music: cloche hats and pearls for the girls, clown-size boots and skintight jeans for the guys.

“I wanted to create a space where musicians could jam and socialize without having to pay, as they do in Shinjuku and Shibuya,” said the manager of Moon Stomp, Yasuhiro Shimazaki, referring to central Tokyo’s commercial music districts.

Across the street, Penguin House (Koenji Kita 3-24-8; 81-3-3330-6294; www3.plala.or.jp/FREEDOM/PENGUIN.htm) is a wood-paneled bar that feels like a suburban rec room. Opened three decades ago — and seemingly not redecorated since — it remains one of Tokyo’s top indie clubs showcasing experimental bands nightly, leaning heavily toward noise and goth. As in most music clubs in Tokyo, the audience listens respectfully in counterpoint to the often frenzied activity onstage.

Those looking to dance make their way to Club Roots (Koenji Kita 3-22-3; 81-3-3330-0447; www.muribushi.jp), a cozy and modern club with an Okinawan feel — laid-back and with a drink list highlighting different types of awamori, the favorite liquor from Okinawa, the province in southern Japan. On weeknights, the rock music goes past 5 a.m., when the trains to central Tokyo begin to run again.

Club Roots is the latest venture from the owners of Dachibin (Koenji Kita 3-2-13; 81-3-3337-1352; www.dachibin.com), a hip Okinawan restaurant where the waiters are often musicians, looking to earn sake money between gigs. As one waiter explained during a recent visit, “In Koenji, everybody plays something.”

Much Glamour at the Ball, but Fewer Debutantes
Lisa W. Foderaro

You had to look hard amid the four-foot floral sculptures and the Vera Wang originals to see signs of the economy’s collapse at the International Debutante Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria on Monday night.

There was the daughter of the Duchesse de Magenta, Pélagie de Mac Mahon, a willowy 18-year-old with chestnut hair who is a great-great-granddaughter of a 19th-century French president. And there were the two sisters from Hong Kong, daughters of a heart surgeon and a jewelry designer, who stayed not two nights but two weeks at the Waldorf, passing the days on the lookout for designer dresses.

Champagne flowed. Men in tails waltzed and fox-trotted with debutantes in long white gowns to music by the 12-piece Lester Lanin Orchestra, a fixture at the ball almost since its inception in 1954. And shortly before midnight, the young debutantes, each flanked by a civilian and military escort, ascended the stage for a deep curtsy.

But the experienced hands, including mothers like the duchesse who made their own debuts in society in this very ballroom, could see the subtle difference in the layout of the hall. And there were fewer debutantes, 47 this year rather than the 58 at the last biennial ball in 2006, and far fewer guests — 662 instead of 976.

The director of the ball, Margaret Hedberg, brushed off the $14,000 cost of a table — “Watches cost more,” she said — although she acknowledged that perhaps the deepening recession accounted for the smaller crowd.

“People are not going overboard,” said Mrs. Hedberg, who came out in 1963 and is the niece of the ball’s founder, Beatrice Dinsmore Joyce. “They’re not taking three or four tables and inviting everybody’s friends’ friends. It’s a little more conservative that way.”

Some parents recognized the disconnect between the opulence inside the hotel’s gilded doors and the mood beyond them; others took comfort in the fact that the event raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, mainly the Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard and Airmen’s Club, a hotel in Manhattan for military members and their families.

Roxanna Armstrong Himelrick of Scottsdale, Ariz., who was introduced at the 1976 ball, said that when she remarried in the fall, she chose to elope rather than have a lavish celebration, in part so she could afford the ultimate coming-out party for her 18-year-old daughter, Brittany Blair Mack.

“Everybody said you shouldn’t do it because of the economy,” Mrs. Armstrong Himelrick said. “It is extravagant. But I felt it was important for my daughter, and things might get worse. This might be her last chance.”

Steeped in tradition, the ball is one of the most exclusive debutante galas in New York and around the country, and this year it included young women from 11 states and from England, France, Germany, Greece and Hong Kong.

The biggest contingent was from Texas, 11 women who had perfected their signature curtsy, the “Texas dip,” which drew gusts of applause from the crowd. The most recognizable name in the pale pink program, which featured full-page black-and-white portraits of the evening’s stars, was a Huffington — Christina Sophia Huffington, daughter of Arianna, the founder of The Huffington Post Web site, and Michael, the oil heir and former California congressman.

One of the debutantes, Anne Moody, a freshman at New York University from Jacksonville, Fla., said she would not be heading back to her dorm room after the ball because her parents kept an apartment in the Pierre Hotel.

“I love it,” Ms. Moody, 18, said after shaking hands for an hour and a half in the receiving line, wearing a Vera Wang gown inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Mikimoto pearls. “I’m networking.”

The ball, which began at 7 p.m. and stretched past 2 a.m. on Tuesday, was by no means the only chance for the women to meet and greet one another or the many young men orbiting them.

On Sunday, there was a mother-daughter brunch at a catering spot off Fifth Avenue. That was followed by a party for 325 guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel. And a final reception at the University Club on Tuesday allowed the debutantes to “get all together and exchange e-mails,” Mrs. Hedberg said. “And then there are a lot of things going on that I don’t know about.”

These days, the gala seems less about unveiling marriageable young women than it once did, and more about having a swell party for a rarefied segment of society.

“It’s not the 19th century, where it was being brought out on the marriage market,” said Suzanne Tufts of Forest Hills, Queens, whose daughter, Abigail, a freshman at Dickinson College, was among the guests of honor. “It really is stepping onto an international forum.”

Ms. Tufts, a consultant for nonprofit organizations, said she took pleasure in watching her daughter, a volleyball player and rower, dance in a dress from Bergdorf Goodman with delicate white bows on the skirt. “I’m used to seeing her in sweats and spandex,” Ms. Tufts said. “So kid gloves and satin is a nice contrast.”

Ms. Tufts noted that the event raised money for charity, adding, “The planning was done a year ago, so you don’t renege on your support.”

Mrs. Hedberg was keenly aware that the ball might seem out of step with the times, but she too pointed out that most of the women learned that they were chosen as debutantes long before the financial crisis hit. “They made their plans and sent their checks,” she said. “And I really can’t cancel it in September or October because I signed so many contracts in February with the orchestra and florist and hotel. We all didn’t quite see what was happening.”

And if all those little edible gold leaves adorning the chocolate boxes that contained plump raspberries for dessert seemed a little excessive, Mrs. Hedberg found a sunny side in the spillover effects. “There are a lot of people who make those dresses and are happy that these gals bought them,” she said. “There are a lot of waiters working tonight, so it’s doing something for the economy. Plus, it’s for charity. So we ought to have some good feelings about that. We can’t beat ourselves up about it.”

Looking back on past recessions, she said, “We got through ’87 and ’93, and life does have a way of going on.

“I don’t mean it in a flippant way, but romance and having fun and looking pretty — I hope that doesn’t go away.”

Web Site Points the Way to Where Drinks Are on the House
Cara Buckley

Frank Leone does not just dislike Drambuie, the Scottish liqueur, he hates it. Its sweetness and thickness remind him, he says, of “corn syrup straight from the jar.”

Yet there he was the other night at the Slipper Room, a club with red velvet-lined walls on the Lower East Side, downing one Drambuie and soda and ordering another. Because while Mr. Leone, a 37-year-old personal trainer and musician, insisted that “there’s no amount of free liquor that would help me acquire a taste for Drambuie,” he does have an acquired taste for free drinks.

He is among the growing audience of myopenbar.com, a Web site that lists where free drinks can be had across New York City each night. On this night, it was the Drambuie Variety Show, which meant that all who got in the door were entitled to all the Drambuie they could drink, courtesy of the liqueur’s vendor. The Slipper Room was packed by 7:30 p.m., a long line snaking around the corner outside.

Myopenbar.com has been around since 2005 but is now attracting more listings, promotions and readers than ever, despite — or perhaps because of — the tanking economy and shrinking advertising dollars and liquor sales at bars. The site’s founders, Seva Granik and Jason Fried, said that more bars and restaurants are clamoring to get their events listed, eager to drive customers through the door. And, to no one’s surprise, demand for free drinks is skyrocketing. (Liquor sales are considered recession-proof, though one recent study by the Nielsen Company suggests that while sales at liquor stores have increased, people are going out to nightclubs and bars far less frequently.)

“The bad economy is doing nothing but helping us,” Mr. Granik wrote in an e-mail message. “We’re probably the only company we know of that’s doing very well because of the downturn.”

Myopenbar.com has 30,000 subscribers in New York, most of them in their 20s and 30s, the very demographic that liquor companies want to reach. The site also has listings for five other cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami and Honolulu) that have attracted 19,000 subscribers, and it has 30 employees. Mr. Granik, 33, and Mr. Fried, 34, declined to say how much revenue the site generates, but they said it was profitable, both through advertising (Toyota Scion and American Apparel are among the sponsors) and the consulting fees that they collect for holding, marketing and promoting events. Those events are noted on the site; otherwise, bars and liquor companies do not have to pay to be listed.

Lauren Goldberg, who is 23 and works in publishing, said the events listed at myopenbar.com suit her because she would be watching her budget even if the economy was not in crisis. “Normally I could not afford this fine liqueur,” she said, taking a sip of a Drambuie fizz.

Myopenbar.com does not only promote Drambuie events, though it has listed so many of them that Mr. Fried has begun using the liqueur in his cooking, especially in glazes. As often as not, the site lists places that offer free beer or vodka, restaurants that serve free wine, and brunch spots that allow diners to bring their own bottles.

It started with Mr. Granik, then a broke musician living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who simply forwarded text messages to his friends about various open bars around town. Demand grew, so he launched a crude Web site that Mr. Fried, a Web designer he had met through a friend’s band, helped to fine-tune. Within six months, 3,000 people had signed up for weekly e-mail blasts. By mid-2006, there were 18,000 subscribers, and a lot more places offering open bar nights.

“We watched open bars as a culture explode, along with this new avenue of promotion,” Mr. Granik said.

Mr. Granik and Mr. Fried rented space in the Decker Building in Union Square, which used to house Andy Warhol’s Factory, and thus did their empire grow. A hallmark of the site is its honesty, and its edge. Each event is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 designated with small icons — cocktail glasses — and accompanied by a brief descriptive paragraph.

“If something’s not good, we’ll say so,” Mr. Fried said.

One recent posting: “Who goes to the East Village anymore? Every time I come through, I’m up to my ears in fossils wearing studded jackets and guyliner.”

Another said: “Two hours of free top-shelf vodka on a Wednesday night draw a thin line betwixt an asset and a liability. Ever the optimists, we’ll opt for the former.”

And then there was this, about a club on Broome Street: “I need a vacation from this place. I love you Happy Ending, but I snuck into you when I was too young, and now that I’m older, being inside you makes me feel like a 40-year-old hooking up with a spring break coed in South Padre.”

Even though Mr. Granik and Mr. Fried say demand for their service has not abated, there has been a shift in who is promoting what: Drambuie notwithstanding, liquor giveaways have declined, they say, but more places are offering free beer and wine.

The number of people signing up for the weekly e-mail list continues to grow; Mr. Granik said 7,000 subscribers have joined since the summer.

“If there’s ever a moment that you’re going to love your drink,” Mr. Fried said, “it’s going to be right now.”

Until next week,

- js.

Current Week In Review

Recent WiRs -

December 27th, December 20th, December 13th, December 6th

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